I don’t think there’s been a more interesting recent example of movie marketing than the Cloverfield films. The original brilliantly utilized viral marketing through its mysterious trailer and ads. Having created the TV show Lost, producer J.J. Abrams knows how to handle a good mystery and the marketing for 10 Cloverfield Lane has managed to follow in its predecessors deceptive footsteps. When the trailer suddenly premiered less than two months before the film’s release, I couldn’t wait to see this thing. In an era where trailers seem to spoil every aspect of a film, it’s refreshing to see marketing that prefers to keep things under wraps. So it’s an added bonus that both Cloverfield films are excellent genre exercises, providing tension and excitement through great direction. This is less of a sequel to the original and more of a distant relative; it manages to deliver just as many thrills as the original, but on a much smaller scale, which makes it all the more impressive.

We’re introduced to Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) as she’s packing up her belongings and leaving behind her fiancé. As she’s driving down the road to start a new beginning, her car is slammed into by a truck and she’s knocked out cold. She awakens chained to the wall inside a small, dank room that’s part of an underground bunker. She soon discovers that she was brought there by Howard (John Goodman), a doomsday prepper who tells her that it’s not safe outside of the shelter’s walls. Neither Howard nor the bunker’s other resident, Emmet (John Gallagher Jr.), know exactly what went wrong, but they both believe that it has something to do with the quality of the air. Michelle isn’t sure if it’s safe to go outside, but it might be even more dangerous inside the bunker with Howard.

In his feature film debut, director Dan Trachtenberg has crafted a thrill ride that will keep audiences on pins and needles from beginning to end. Part of what makes the film so tense is the general mystery that pervades the its excellently paced runtime. Is Howard telling the truth about the danger on the outside? Can he be trusted? If there is something dangerous outside, what caused it? These are just a few of the questions that spring up and the screenplay from Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken and Damien Chazelle does a great job at leading you to one conclusion before turning things on their head. These mysteries also lead to some great setpieces including Michelle’s initial escape attempt, a tense crawl through the bunker’s vents and the chaos that ensues at the end of the film when things descend into chaos.

Having avoided roles in major Hollywood productions for a few years, it’s great to see Mary Elizabeth Winstead back on the big screen again. Michelle goes through a lot in this film and Winstead successfully embodies every thought and emotion that she feels along the way. From the fear that she experiences upon discovering her initial situation to the strength that she displays in the film’s finale, Winstead nails every nuance required of her. John Gallagher Jr. does a fine job with the role that he’s given, particularly in a quiet moment where he reflects back on a key event from his life. But if there’s anyone in the cast worth talking about, it’s John Goodman. A veteran actor who’s been delivering underrated performances for decades now, Goodman walks a tightrope that balances his character between sympathetic and despicable. We’re never quite sure what his motivations are, but Goodman is intimidating regardless. Since so many things about his character are mysterious throughout the film, his performance will probably be more illuminating on a second viewing when all questions have been answered.

Some audience members might be disappointed by where the film ends up, but I appreciated that it had the guts to do something weird with its ending. The film starts off with a Twilight Zone premise and ends like a Stephen King short story, which I’m perfectly fine with. The direction in the film’s final 15 minutes gets a little muddled, which really the only time that Trachtenberg takes a misstep. There are a few hiccups in the script, particularly regarding Michelle’s convenient ability to design clothing, but luckily everything comes together to present a story that’s all about taking action and not sitting idly as life passes us by. There’s a lot to love in 10 Cloverfield Lane, a well-executed genre film that delivers everything you would hope for. I can’t wait to see what the Cloverfield franchise brings us next.

10 Cloverfield Lane receives 3.5/4

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