This week's top pick is a veritable miracle in the world of commercial cinema. An unexpected sequel to 2008's brilliant found footage horror film "Cloverfield", Dan Trachtenberg "10 Cloverfield Lane" arrived in theaters this month with little more than a single trailer released a few weeks ago for promotion. And even more surprising than its mere existence, is the revelation that it turned out to be pretty darn great.
Set in an apocalyptic future, "10 Cloverfield Lane" details the nightmarish experience of a woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Her ordeal begins on a quiet drive through rural Louisiana, a road trip that soon turns catastrophic after another vehicle slams into hers. Some hours later, she wakes up in a mysterious room, chained to a wall. Reeling from the shock of her accident and present captivity, she becomes suspicious of a man named Howard (John Goodman), who informs her that he has placed her in his bunker for protection from the outside world. Also with them is Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who corrobates his theory that the world is under attack by extraterrestrial invaders who have poisoned the air. After much resistance, she settles into their makeshift home. But as she becomes more aware of her surroundings and starts putting the pieces together, Michelle starts to question whether Howard is really who he says he is, and whether she should risk an escape.
Though its title references "Cloverfield" and deals with similar themes of invasion and terror, the filmmakers have frequently stated that "10 Cloverfield Lane" is only a spiritual sequel. More important is the connotation of civility in the film's title, which immediately reminds you of a home address in a typical American suburb. And indeed, the film does take place largely in a domestic setting.
But despite the home-cooked meals and extensive movie collection, Trachtenberg replaces the white picket fence with impenetrable steel walls and an underlying tension that's far from familial. Though uninviting, the tense atmosphere entraps the viewer, as Trachtenberg's story keeps us in the dark as much as Michelle. Extending the film's pre-release mystery to the narrative itself, we're left guessing all the way through, guided by John Goodman's Howard as our possibly deranged man of the house.
Opposite him, Winstead's Michelle is no Stepford wife however. In 2016's first great performance, she captures both the fear and determined curiosity that comes from waking up in a world that has suddenly turned upside down. But Michelle goes further than that, posing a formidable challenge to the Ellen Ripley crown of cinema's great action heroines. Impressively resourceful and resilient, her fortitude and Winstead's own physicality is truly something to behold. She may not have a super power, but she relies on an innately human trait - the will to survive.
And it's this survivalist attitude that gives the film its pulse. Although the psycological battles waged between the central acting trio are intriguing, the plot does fall into some placid moments. But through his badass star, Trachtenberg is able to deliver a heart-pounding thrill ride that ultimately leads to a satisfying conclusion.