The 400-Word-Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane
By Sean Collier
March 14, 2016

I mean, as long as you've got puzzles and beer, who needs the outside world?

The only verifiable connection between the 2008 found-footage monster movie “Cloverfield” and the 2016 science fiction confinement thriller “10 Cloverfield Lane” is the word that appears in both titles. I suppose it’s a safe assumption that the flicks take place in the same universe — which I can report represents a tantalizing invitation to fan theory — but even granting that, the similarities are sparse.

The 2008 flick, under the direction of Matt Reeves — both films were produced by J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot label — represented one of few glowing examples of shaky-camera horror, using the limitations of a handheld lens to reinvigorate the dormant big-monster genre. The new movie, by freshman helmer Dan Trachtenberg, more closely recalls John Carpenter’s “The Thing” in plot and setting — we’re trapped, we’ll definitely die if we leave and we might die if we stay.

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, coincidentally also the star of a remake of “The Thing”) is fleeing a sour relationship when a car accident sends her careening over a hillside. When she comes to, she’s chained to the wall in an underground cell; assuming she’s been kidnapped in a more traditional sense, she immediately begins bargaining with her captor, a testy survivalist named Howard (John Goodman).

Howard is not keeping her there as his victim, he claims. There’s been a devastating attack — maybe chemical, maybe nuclear — and the fallout will likely last years. He happened upon her overturned car while frantically rushing to his lovingly constructed fallout shelter, and took pity on her. (A third survivor, Emmet (John Gallagher, Jr.), helped Howard build the bunker.) There is much that he’s not saying, however; Howard seems determined not only to prevent Michelle from fleeing the safety of his lair, but also to keep her from learning what may have actually happened above ground.

The script, though a bit long-winded, is more than capable of creating white-knuckle tension out of anything from simple domestic requests to out-and-out threats. Trachtenberg directs quite capably, establishing constant paranoia and even a bit of humor. And while the full cast — including an unexpected A-lister lending his voice to a bit part — all do fine work, Goodman’s performance is overpowering. He instantly ranks among the best big-screen villains in recent memory and single-handedly brings 10 Cloverfield Lane from the realm of the notable curiosity to a must-see experience.

My Rating: 8/10

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at