10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) changes the spin-off game

10 Cloverfield Lane movie review
Photo Credit: 10 Cloverfield Lane / Paramount Pictures
Monsters come in many forms. Michelle (Mary Winstead Elizabeth) encounters a series of her own when she wakes up in an underground shelter after a brutal car accident. She's being held hostage by a paranoiac ex-Navy man Howard (John Goodman), who claims he didn't just save her from the horrific wreckage but a hostile enemy invasion. Faced with mind-games within the absurd refuge and the loom of an apocalypse, she is forced to decide whether the person who claims to rescue her is as dangerous as the unidentifiable threats she's protection against.

Hollywood has attempted the innocent-woman-held-captive trope time and time again. A lot of films in the genre merely torture-porn babes and commits to violence for violence's sake to cheap effect. Another go of this type of flick doesn't seem strictly necessary, but producer J.J. Abrams and his team prove it's worth another try. By transforming those worn-out elements, they create a surprising game-changer.

Claustrophobic and engaging, 10 Cloverfield Lane meshes the action of a budding end-of-the-world scenario with psychological teases. The story's atmosphere and Howard's apparent safe haven is full of misdirection and suspense that calls into question: where is safe? what is the truth?

Michelle's fate is challenged in the all the best and terrifying ways. By making her a confident and resourceful heroine, she uses every weapon - both intelligence and with the tools at hand - to challenge her fate. A lot of the film's thrills walks the fine line between her (and another captive Emmett) letting her guard down to accept the truth and staying suspicious because some facts are not what they seem. Played awesomely by Mary Winstead Elizabeth, she is such a kick-ass character in this genre.

Her feat is challenged by an environment that is emotionally and physically confining. Plenty of evidence supports that deadly forces have invaded humankind, which makes it difficult to maneuver whether or not it's even smart or safe to venture outside. The mood is toyed with how Howard's dwelling is like a dream conspiratorial theorists' tiny home. It's completely decked out in not only food, water, and filtered air but fully furnished kitchen, dining room, living room, games, music, and movies. The familiar, even nostalgic, atmosphere is cozy and trusting. But it's all remnants of what life was before and it merely masks the tension in the air.

On top of which, surviving either means playing house with Howard or making an escape - and neither choice seems to be in her definite favor. John Goodman is brilliant as the unhinged survivalist. He is calm and collected with a touch of creepy one second, and then completely enraged the next. His backstory and Michelle's survival greatly navigates between letting your guard down and unpredictable twists. There's a definite sway between acquiescing to rules in order to keep the peace and trying to understand what lurks behind his conspiratorial beliefs.

Like it's predecessor Cloverfield, the story doesn't center on creatures versus humans. This sequel's quest (which also works as a standalone) is much more than facing scary monsters in an apocalypse, but also conquering monsters in human form who have to be endured or defeated in order to survive. Twists sprinkled throughout the film never lets the story rest on a captured woman or cheap violence. With refreshing characters and effective suspense, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a worthy thriller.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen 10 Cloverfield Lane? What are your thoughts?

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