Producer J.J. Abrams sure knows how to release a film. In 2007, he launched a mysterious trailer for an unnamed sci-fi film at a Transformers screening, creating a buzz that saw Cloverfield, as it was soon to be known, collect just over US$170 million at the box-office. Not bad for a film with a US$25 million budget.
Abrams used the same approach here. The trailer, featuring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman and John Gallagher Jr trapped in an underground bunker after a deadly attack has wiped out mankind, got me excited. But the result is best considered a cousin of the original rather than a member of the immediate family, which has set up expectations it can't quite reach.
Thematically, tone and genre wise, it's all Cloverfield, but on a smaller scale and without the use of the found footage style of the original. It relies on performances of its small cast, script and tight direction by director Dan Trachtenberg to build suspense.
The set up is economical. We meet Michelle (Winstead) who wakes from a nasty car accident, chained in a bunker and being cared for by Howard (Goodman), a conspiracy theorist who tells her she's lucky to be alive - not from the accident, but because America has been the target of a chemical or nuclear attack that could, he says, be aliens.
Also in the bunker is naive local, Elliot. While Howard tries to convince Michelle there's been an attack, like any smart, sensible girl, she needs to see for herself. Her escape attempt reveals enough to make her further question Howard's intentions.
Is Howard a kidnapping psychopath? Is Elliot in on it? Fear and tension are palpable as the psychological games play out, and when we get complacent with life in the bunker Trachtenberg throws in curveballs that often deliver a good fright, but the big reveal is a touch predictable.
Movie: 10 Cloverfield Lane
Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Running Time: 103 mins
Rating: M (Violence & content that may disturb)
Verdict: Nicely crafted psychological thriller, but doesn't deliver the climactic punch it deserves.