This ‘Twilight Zone’-style thriller is a film of two distinct styles. First there’s minimalist claustrophobic drama, unspooling in an underground bunker populated by mistrustful apocalypse survivors; if you’re a fan of hand-wringing and lengthy scenes of problem-solving, this is where you’ll want the film to linger. Then there’s the maximalist action flick (no spoilers here) that ‘10 Cloverfield Lane’ becomes – perhaps unavoidably, given its arbitrary attachment to 2008’s monster mash ‘Cloverfield’. The sudden shift is a let-down after so much concentrated old-school craft.
It begins as Mary Elizabeth Winstead – the young, impressive ‘Scott Pilgrim’ star with a jawline like Sigourney Weaver’s – hangs up on her boyfriend and takes to the road. One car crash later she wakes up chained to the wall of an underground cell. Her captor (John Goodman, channelling his creepy ‘Barton Fink’ side) tells her an ‘attack’ has happened, rendering the outside world uninhabitable. We see just enough to wonder if he’s right. Maybe he really is her saviour?
This section of ‘10 Cloverfield Lane’ is an electrifying three-person play, as the resourceful Winstead, the furious Goodman and Tony-winner John Gallagher Jr (as a lucky builder who made it down to the refuge) hash it out in scenes that impart the nauseating futility of ‘Dawn of the Dead’. If only the film were content with that. But producer J.J. Abrams eventually has to open his ‘mystery box,’ and with that the intelligence level plummets. Never mind. Go along anyway, if only to witness the A-list arrival of the mighty Winstead, who’d do fine in a ‘Room’ of her own.