“Waking up from a car accident, a young woman finds herself in the basement of a man who says he’s saved her life from a chemical attack that has turned all females over the age of 36 into a soft varporous liquid, which can be utilized as a disinfectant.”
Reading that, from promotional materials purportedly describing what’s up in “10 Cloverfield Lane,” one’s natural response is: “??!!!!”
Or as the Pythons (Monty) once so famously declaimed: “And now for something completely different.”
Alas, that verbiage seems like something the wags in the picture’s marketing department came up with as part of a secretive scheme on the part of producer J.J. Abrams and his creative team to conceal the true nature of the movie until it opened, the better to fuddle the expectations of fans curious to know how he and his people followed up their surprise 2008 found-footage horror hit “Cloverfield.”
The fact is, rather than something truly wild and way, way off the wall, “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a variation on the “don’t go down into the basement” school of scary moviemaking, only this time with a 180-degree twist. Which is to say, it’s a movie whose central premise is, “Don’t leave the basement and climb toward the light.” And this time, no found footage.
The basement here is a well-stocked doomsday bunker in which a young woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) finds herself imprisoned by the bunker’s builder, a paranoid survivalist named Howard (John Goodman), after a car crash.
He chains her up. He tells her he’s saved her from death by fallout following nuclear armageddon.
He’s weird. He’s controlling. He may be lying about what’s up there beyond the bunker’s double-locked doors leading to the outside world.
For most of the picture, hulking Howard is a mildly menacing host. (Goodman did menace much more effectively as the raving madman in “Barton Fink.”)
Michelle is a smart, resourceful woman, able to convert a crutch into a spear and a shower curtain into a hazmat suit.
There’s a third occupant, a bearded young man named Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) whose character is ill-defined to the point of being almost inconsequential.
Board games, threats from Howard and desperate escape planning by Michelle take up most the picture. And then, first-time feature director Dan Trachtenberg and the screenwriters, apparently realizing that not much has been going on so far, ramp up to a full-bore CG explosion extravaganza finale.
Too little. Too late.
10 Cloverfield Lane
☆☆ out of 5.
Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.
Director: Dan Trachtenberg.
Running time: 1:45.
Rated: PG-13, for thematic material including frightening sequences of threat with some violence, and brief language.