'10 Cloverfield Lane' wins originality points, gets big boost from Goodman
’10 Cloverfield Lane’ wins originality points, gets big boost from Goodman

J.J. Abrams loves secrets and surprises. His “loose lips sink ships” approach to filmmaking is kind of noble and impressive in our era of spoilers and TMZ.

While he was directing the biggest movie in the world, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” Abrams took it to the next level as his Bad Robot production company went and made a movie that nobody even knew existed until the trailer debuted two months ago.

“10 Cloverfield Lane” is a nutso chamber piece that was made in complete secrecy by first-time director Dan Trachtenberg.

Billed by Abrams as a “blood relative” to his giant monster rampage flick “Cloverfield,” “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a genre mashup about three people in a bunker after the world may or may not have ended.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars as Michelle, a young woman who is knocked unconscious in a car wreck and wakes up to find herself in an underground bunker.

Her “rescuer” Howard (John Goodman) is a doomsday prepper and conspiracy nut who breaks the news some kind of attack has rendered the atmosphere toxic and unbreathable.

Michelle is a tad bit skeptical, as you would imagine, but Howard’s story is given some credence by Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), a neighbor who headed straight to Howard’s bunker after seeing a flash in the sky.

The vast majority of the movie plays out as a tense psychological thriller as we watch things unfold through Michelle’s eyes while never being sure of who to trust or what to believe.

Winstead does an admirable job as the tough and capable heroine, while Gallagher Jr. is solid as the likable comic relief. But it is Goodman who makes this movie work.

Goodman has always been an actor who has used his physically imposing size to his advantage. He can seamlessly play charming and jovial in one movie and volatile and intimidating in the next. In “10 Cloverfield Lane,” he gets to play all of it at once.

This movie doesn’t hold up to a lot of intense scrutiny, but Trachtenberg does a good job of finding plenty of different places to put his camera in his cramped work environment and manages to make the proceedings feel claustrophobic without being oppressive or repetitive.

“10 Cloverfield Lane” certainly wins points for originality and, while its climax will garner its share of eye-rolls, I tip my hat for it at least trying to be a little bit different.

Abrams has figured out in some cases the mystery and intrigue surrounding a project can be more fun than the final result. Such is the case here, but it is surprising in our disposable pop-culture landscape how far a little razzle-dazzle can get you.

“10 Cloverfield Lane” is rated PG-13 for thematic material, including frightening sequences of threat with some violence and brief language.

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