10 Cloverfield Lane wasn’t written by M. Night “It’s a Twist!” Shyamalan, but it might as well have been.
In this suspense thriller, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) awakens after surviving a horrific automobile accident only to find herself chained to a wall inside a cinder block dungeon. She quickly meets her host, Howard (John Goodman), but we are unclear as to whether he has rescued Michelle or abducted her. Dimwitted Emmett Dewitt (John Gallagher Jr.) is also hanging around the bunker, and collaborates Howard’s story that some sort of cataclysmic event (an attack by “either Russians, North Koreans, or Martians”) has occurred. Despite the occasional sound of cars and helicopters passing by outside, Howard insists that the air outside is contaminated, and everyone outside his bunker is dead.
Fortunately for Michelle and Emmett, Howard was a “prepper,” one of those people you see on TV that spends their money on bunkers and food and weapons. “Crazy is building your ark after the flood has already come,” says Howard, who predicts the air outside will be good enough to breathe “in a year or two.” To pass the time, Howard has stocked his bunker with board games, jigsaw puzzles, and movies (“both on DVD and VHS”).
So many hints and red herrings are tossed about (the jigsaw puzzle they assemble is titled “Cat Fish”) that viewers are never exactly sure who is lying to whom. Because of this, it’s impossible to tell who to trust (or who not to) until it’s too late. This slow-building psychological thriller lasts right around 1:45. I spent the first hour waiting for something to happen, thirty minutes watching something happen, and fifteen minutes wondering what the hell just happened.
If viewers don’t feel claustrophobic enough from spending the majority of the film in an underground bunker, occasionally the characters are forced into even tighter quarters. More than the setting, the characters must deal with the uncertainty that what’s outside the bunker might be scarier than what’s inside it. Maybe.
After watching the film I learned that a pre-written script was purchased and turned into a “Cloverfield” movie. This is completely unsurprising, as the film’s climax feels tacked on. I don’t know what or what was outside the bunker in the original draft of the script, but based on this film’s title, you can probably guess who or what is out there in this one.