Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has decided to leave her fiancé, the relationship has broken down for whatever reason and she is not about to go back now, so gathers her belongings from their apartment and starts to drive out of the city and into the countryside. However, she is not going to reach her destination for when night falls and she is filling up her car's fuel tank, she thinks she is being watched by a creepy driver. Nothing comes of her fears but when she is out on the road, trying to ignore the calls on her phone from her boyfriend, suddenly her vehicle is in a collision. She has no real idea how it happened, but when she wakes up from unconsciousness she grows aware of unfamiliar surroundings...
Merely looking at any descriptions of this film's genre would constitute a spoiler of sorts, but 10 Cloverfield Lane was one of those top secret projects from the J.J. Abrams stable where keeping the precise details from the public about what was really going on it their plots appeared to be a military operation in itself. Nowhere near as big a deal as the Star Wars sequel he helmed, but perhaps putting the reference to one of his previous hits right there in the title was a pretty big giveaway as to the plot's final twist, and led to some strange instances of audiences being confused by what they had seen, thus perhaps harming the production's overall reception. It was no major reveal to say Abrams had purchased an existing script and had it retooled.
That's probably why the first hour and a quarter did not quite marry up with the last act, though that finale was planned in the early stages so should by all rights have felt more organic than it actually turned out. But that's not to say this was a dead loss because the ending ruined it when in fact it was an admirable attempt to follow up a hit with something not necessarily expected; a Cloverfield sequel seemed like an inevitability, but what was this that bore the name yet came across as a world away from the found footage science fiction horror that had made such an impact eight years before? It didn't share any of the same characters, nor locations, and the title made it appear as an afterthought rather than a proper carrying of the plot over to a new movie.
What you got was a sharply performed three-hander of a suspense piece where Michelle discovers she is chained to a wall in a cell in an underground bunker. In the first of many examples of the film messing with expectations (not counting its name popping up briefly at the beginning), we cannot work out if she is there for her own good or whether she is being exploited or even kidnapped. Her captor? Or saviour? Enter Howard (John Goodman, keeping an admirable poker face), who tells her he saved her not only from her car wreck but also a massive environmental disaster that has settled over the land outside, poisoning the air and leaving the bunker as the safest environment. Michelle does get a look outside and glimpses rotting farm animals, so is Howard on the level? She wonders because he has a strange way of going about saving her.
Director Dan Trachtenberg, podcaster turned commercials maker turned, with this, blockbuster creator was not really demanded to fashion an effects and stunts filled extravaganza, leaving him to work on his strengths of building the characters' interactions which formed the core of the drama. It’s a cliché to say that blockbusters neglect the personality of their main players, but here was one which concentrated that almost to the exclusion of everything else, at least until the resolution, and it was very impressive as far as that went, with the addition of the injured Emmett (John Gallagher Jr) to throw the wariness between Michelle (who is our guide) and Howard into sharper relief. But at its heart was this question: when things start getting worse, a lot worse, do you roll over and accept them as a solitary soul cannot do anything to stem that flow, or do you say no, I’m not having this, I'm going to contribute to making the world better? If the latter option appealed, then you had to consider that the former was the prevalent attitude. This was a story about hope, and how difficult it is to hang on to. Music by Bear McCreary.