It's practically palatial, the underground bunker in 10 Cloverfield Lane, compared to Brie Larson and little Jacob Tremblay's claustrophobic shed in Room. The cozy warren where Mary Elizabeth Winstead awakens, her leg shackled and an IV poking into her arm, looks like a luxury Airbnb. There's a kitchen, a living room, a jukebox, a TV, and a library of DVDs and VHS tapes - and she has her own private place to sleep. Sure, the door is locked from the outside. But things could be worse.
Or could they?
In 10 Cloverfield Lane, a wickedly clever nightmare entertainment and a spiritual successor to 2008's J.J. Abrams-overseen, found-footage sci-fier Cloverfield, Winstead is Michelle, a New Orleans millennial who begins the movie breaking up (by iPhone) with her boyfriend, packs her stuff, gets in her car, and leaves town.
Later that night, she's run off a dark road, with her car rolling ominously into a gully. When she regains consciousness, she's the prisoner in some creepy guy's place.
"I'm sorry, but no one is looking for you," Michelle's burly host tells her when she warns him that people will be wondering where's she gone. His name is Howard. He's ex-Navy. He's played by John Goodman, furtive, soft-spoken, funny here and there, and absolutely menacing everywhere. If there's a moment when he calls out, ominously, that reminds you of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, I don't think that's an accident.
But before that, when Howard is acting calm and full of concern and candor, he tells Michelle that he didn't abduct her, he rescued her. Some kind of holocaust has happened: nuclear war, invaders from Mars, whatever it is, there's no one left above ground. He built this survivalist's lair for just such an occasion.
Dan Trachtenberg, a Philadelphia native and Temple film school alum making a crafty, confident feature debut, takes things from there. It turns out Howard has another houseguest: Emmett (Short Term 12's John Gallagher Jr.), a local boy who helped build the bunker and who now sleeps in a nook surrounded by canned provisions. Emmett's arm is in a sling, he's bruised and bloodied, but he seems in good spirits, considering. He takes a shine to Michelle.
To say any more about what goes on in 10 Cloverfield Lane is to say too much. The audience is left (and led) to wonder whether Howard could possibly be speaking the truth. Winstead, who demonstrated her formidable talents in the 2012 indie Smashed (she's a schoolteacher, she's a drunk - see it!), is riveting as the victim here. No, not the victim - you can see the resolve, the resourcefulness in her eyes. She's going to do her damnedest to get out of here, or die trying.
So what's the connection to Cloverfield?
Is there a connection, or is this just some kind of J.J. Abrams/Bad Robot (his production company) joke?
By the end of the thumpingly exhilarating 10 Cloverfield Lane, that will all become really clear.