‘10 Cloverfield Lane’
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman
4 (out of 5) Globes
Mary Elizabeth Winstead never looks comfortable in “10 Cloverfield Lane.” As Michelle, she tends to shoot serious side-eye at her captor and maybe-savior, John Goodman's Howard, a shambling potential psycho and definite hothead. He claims to have rescued her twice: first from a nasty car accident, then from an ambiguous massive attack that has, he claims, rendered the outside air sick with toxins. That’s why the two of them — plus a more easygoing though still nervous third wheel, John Gallagher Jr.’s Emmet — are hunkered in Howard’s lovingly decked-out underground cellar. Even when Howard’s theories are at least partly proven true, Michelle still doesn’t rest easy. Nor should she.
But Michelle’s no damsel in distress, nor a superhuman waiting to unlock her powers, nor a woman whose suffering and anguish we’re supposed to, on some level, enjoy. She’s scared, but she’s not stupid. Her body is frozen with fright but her eyes are alive and intelligent and, most of all, critical. She’s quick to surmise that, on the level or not, her hulking host is a ticking time bomb. He’s prone to angrily demand thanks for his selfless rescue acts, establishes weird ground rules for his young charges (“no touching”) and generally demonstrate that the people most prepared for a worst case scenario are usually the least together. She knows that by saying next-to-nothing, by playing the demure female, she can throw her hulk of a host off the scent of her mistrust.
Winstead’s precisely contained performance isn’t the only deftly controlled part of “10 Cloverfield Lane.” It’s a finely calibrated shape-shifter that is, by turns, a kidnapping saga, a prison break picture, a post-apocalyptic grinder, a chamber dramedy and at least two other types of movies we won’t spoil — though, given the title and the presence of J.J. Abrams as a producer, one is an easy guess. There are twists galore, but this isn’t just about getting to the next hairpin turn. It’s about staying in the moment, which is usually thick with tension, even when things have momentarily chilled out into board game sessions and screenings of VHS horror junk.