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TEN CLOVERFIELD LANE (director: Dan Trachtenberg; screenwriter: story by Josh Campbell, Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, Damien Chazelle; cinematographer: Jeff Cutter; editor: Stefan Grube; music: Bear McCreary; cast: John Goodman (Howard), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Michelle), John Gallagher Jr. (Emmett); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: J.J. Abrams, Lindsey Weber; Paramount; 2016)
The scary film caught my interest with its realistic developed characters and intelligent dialogue.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The semi-sequel to the found-footage “Cloverfield” (2008), is well-produced and does a good job as it ramps up the nail-biting tension. This sci-fi thriller is the feature debut for director Dan Trachtenberg. It’s based on a story by Josh Campbell, and is co-written by Campbell, Matthew Stuecken and Damien Chazelle. The scary film caught my interest with its realistic developed characters and intelligent dialogue, until the implausible, surprising conclusion put more than a slight damper on it.

While a distraught Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), stewing over a spat with her cellphone calling boyfriend (only the voice of Bradley Cooper is heard), is driving on a highway in Lake Charles, Louisiana, when someone rear-ends her and forces her car off the road. The unconscious Michelle wakes up a prisoner in the securely locked underground bunker of hulking madman Howard (John Goodman), a retired navy man who we will learn later was the one who slammed into her. In this threatening situation, he politely tells the frightened Michelle everything will be fine and that its a doomsday situation, as the world is under a nuke attack from maybe Martians and the air outside is contaminated. Howard wants her to thank him for saving her life from the car accident and also from the nuclear disaster, as he reassures her everyone in the world is dead.

The weird Howard hardly seems like someone the damsel in distress can trust, as he quickly changes moods going from seemingly generous to hostile. Even when Howard makes nice, he’s sinister and threatening. With that in mind, the feisty heroine tries to find a way to escape. To her surprise, the likable and gentle young man Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.) also has lodging in the bunker. He’s Howard’s neighbor who spent a few years helping him build the gloomy survivalist shelter, that’s sealed off from the world. The not too perceptive Emmett forced his way in the bunker when the attack began.

The anxiety mounts, as the resourceful heroine convinces Emmett, who is her best hope of escaping, that they must flee from this oppressive place and make contact with the outside world to find out what’s really happening.

John Goodman is as creepy a lunatic as anyone who ever played a dangerously nutso movie role, who gives the film some good-old-fashioned chills as an unhinged old-timer suppressing tremendous rage against the world for not treating him with the respect he thinks he deserved. Mary Elizabeth Winstead seems like a likely star in the making, as her performance was commanding as the film’s central heroic figure. The easy-going third character was excellently played by John Gallagher Jr., as a trusting soul who when faced with danger bravely acts despite the consequences he faces.

Producer J.J. Abrams’ fingerprints are all over this engaging effort.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”