Talk about a sneak attack: 10 Cloverfield Lane seems to have come out of nowhere. You might notice that the production company Bad Robot has been keeping the movie under wraps (they shot it under the title Valencia). The reason? The better to shock you senseless with, my dears.
And here I am about to tell you about a movie that you shouldn't let anyone tell you about. So I'll skip to a few, spoiler-free essentials. First, 10 Cloverfield Lane comes loaded with everything a psychological thriller needs to shatter your nerves — and then kicks it up a notch. And, oh, about that title. If the Cloverfield shout-out makes you think this movie is a direct sequel to that low-budget, found-footage 2008 horror show about monsters invading a Manhattan filled with hard-partying millennials, you're on the wrong track. But not completely wrong. There's a vibe, a definite vibe.
Certainly Howard feels it. As played by the great John Goodman, Howard is a Louisiana survivalist who's spent years preparing for the worst — terrorists, Russians, aliens, suspicious neighbors, doomsday, Howard doesn't give a damn. He's ready and tucked away in an underground bunker that looks as comfy and chintzy as the family room in a 1950's sitcom. Feeling impervious to nuclear radiation or extra-terrestrial juju, Howard can ride out the storm alone. But, see, he's not alone. There's Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead is dynamite and then some), a determined woman driving hard to get away from a boyfriend (voiced on the phone by Bradley Cooper). Her car crashed — or did it? — outside Howard's bunker and now he's taken her in and tied her up. Why? I'll never tell.
The third occupant of the bunker is Emmett (the most excellent John Gallagher, Jr.), a neighbor who knew Howard's grown daughter who is living in, well, parts unknown. Is Howard lying about what's outside or telling the truth? Goodman, grabbing his juiciest screen role in years, plays it for every tingling note of mirth and menace. You can't take your eyes off him. And cheers to first-time director Dan Trachtenberg, who knows how to let the claustrophobia of the bunker seep into your blood stream until you're jumping at everything that goes bump in the night.
Carried along by the beats of Bear McCreary's pulsating score, 10 Cloverfield Lane seems eager to play itself like a B-movie throwaway. It's anything but. Cloverfield producer J.J. Abrams, who just did some Star Wars thing, is back on the team, and Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) wrote the script with Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken. Translation: You're in good hands. As for the movie's impact — to paraphrase Donald Trump, it's going to be huge.