10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

The Phantom of the Ville opens the new J.J. Abrams’ produced “mystery box” horror film.

You’ve really got to hand it to J.J. Abrams when it comes to secrecy on one of his film sets. Recent history would seem to suggest that it’s easier to crack top secret information from the Pentagon than to obtain leaked photos or plot information from anything made by his Bad Robot Productions studio. Last year Abrams managed to produce a major horror thriller completely under the radar while all the Hollywood buzz was distracted by his other little pet project, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

To be fair, Abrams is only the producer for “10 Cloverfield Lane.” The directing chores for this modestly budgeted, $5 million mini-epic were handed over to first time feature filmmaker, Dan Trachtenberg, but that’s okay. Matt Reeves wasn’t much more experienced when Abrams’ sat him in the director’s chair for the original “Cloverfield” (2008), and he has graduated to the head honcho of the “Planet of the Apes” franchise. Abrams seems to have an eye for talent.

So you’re saying “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a sequel to the found footage, POV giant monster movie, “Cloverfield,” right? Well, no. Yes, sort of. Maybe. “10 Clovefield Lane” is not a shaky cam found footage movie and it’s not a Godzilla style, city smashing disaster movie either. So what is it?

It’s an extremely tense, claustrophobic, Hitchcockian thriller featuring three characters trapped together in a survivalist’s fallout bunker during what could be a nuclear war, a natural disaster, an alien invasion or maybe just the paranoid delusions of an unstable sociopath.

Grounded by a terrific performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (“The Thing” 2011) as a young woman on the verge of a significant breakup who has packed her bags and headed out across country fleeing her old life when she is blindsided in a near fatal traffic accident. She awakens chained to the wall of a nondescript concrete room with an IV in her veins and no idea how she got there.

Enter conspiracy theory believer and hardcore survivalist, John Goodman (“The Big Lewbowski”), who has spent years building a fallout bunker beneath his farm and who has apparently rescued Winstead from certain death and brought her back to safety just as something terrible went down in the world outside. Also living in the bunker is Goodman’s blue-collar neighbor played by John Gallagher Jr. who has also suffered injuries, but not from trying to escape Goodman’s bunker. His injuries were obtained trying to get in. He was actually witness the beginnings of some apocalyptic event that has taken place out there.

To say any more about the plot would be to spoil the fun of shaking Abram’s mystery box under the cinematic Christmas tree and trying to figure out what’s inside by listening to the pieces rumble about. The problem with his “mystery box” concept is that at some point the box must be opened for better or for worse, and based on the grumbling I heard in the audience when the credits rolled on this incredibly tight 103 minute thriller, some folks will never be satisfied with the reveal after following the carrot on the stick in front of them for an extended period of time.

Abrams has delivered mixed results when pulling back the curtain on other mystery box projects like “Lost” (2004) and “Super 8” (2011), but I enjoyed “10 Cloverfield Lane” and its’ far out finale much better than I did either of those two productions. In some ways, Abrams has put himself in the same predicament that Ridley Scott put himself in by teasing the “Alien” (1979) connection to “Prometheus” (2012) and pleasing nobody in the process. If you’re looking for a monster movie, there is certainly a monster in “10 Cloverfield Lane,” and it is played magnificently by John Goodman.

The Phantom of The Ville

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