By Bradley Griffith
In the pantheon of unusual movies “10 Cloverfield Lane” ranks somewhere in the middle of the pack. It’s not great, but neither is it terrible. It’s definitely not your average movie and odds are that you have never seen anything like it before.
As the movie begins a young woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has had an argument with her fiancé and is packing her bags. She needs to get away, out of the city for a while to clear her head. As she drives through the night the radio reports massive blackouts in various cities across the country.
In the middle of the night on a lonely two-lane road in the middle of nowhere Michelle has an accident. When she wakes Michelle is in a concrete room laying on a thin mattress with an IV in her arm and a heavy brace on her knee. Attached to the brace is a chain that tethers Michelle to the wall.
Shortly thereafter Howard (John Goodman), an overweight middle-aged man who says he found her on the side of the road after her accident, brings her food and explains her situation. Instead of calling an ambulance or taking her to a hospital he picked her up and brought her to his bunker. Howard claims there has been an attack. He doesn’t know if it’s the Russians or Chinese, a terrorist attack, or even aliens for that matter. What he does know is that there’s been an attack and the air above ground is toxic. Any attempt to leave the bunker would be fatal.
Howard has been planning for just such a contingency for years. He built the bunker underground and outfitted it with everything necessary to survive underground for several years. He stockpiled food, water, medicine, even reading material, games, a generator, and an air filtration system.
Michelle also meets Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.), a young man who helped Howard build the bunker. He confirms that an attack has taken place. He knew about Howard’s bunker and knew that the bunker was his best chance of survival. But the longer Michelle stays in the bunker and the more she talks to Howard the more suspicious she becomes that everything she has been told is a lie.
“10 Cloverfield Lane” is an unusual movie. The vast majority of the movie takes place inside the bunker with only three actors. Such a script requires that the actors be at the top of their game and, fortunately for the movie, Winstead, Goodman, Gallagher deliver great performances. Without great acting the entire movie would have been dull and tedious. The actors keep you interested in a movie about three people stuck in a bunker together, no small feat.
But where the movie ultimately fails is in the ending. The buildup to the entire movie is all about finding out what is really happening outside the bunker. Is the country under attack? If so, who is attacking? Or is the whole thing a delusion of a deranged man who is determined to protect the miniature society he created in the bunker?
The answers to these questions are totally unfulfilling. Instead of a big “Aha!” moment you are left feeling more like “Ugh.” What could have been a very well-done, smart and innovative movie turned into another disappointing ending in an era where no one seems to know how to end a movie.
Rated PG-13 for thematic material including frightening sequences of threat with some violence and brief language.