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10 Cloverfield Lane

Year: 2016
Production Co: Bad Robot
Studio: Paramount
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Producer: JJ Abrams
Writer: Josh Campbell/Matthew Stuecken/Damien Chazelle
Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr, John Goodman

There's one major thing that's great about 10 Cloverfield Lane and one major thing that's not so much. The former is that you can see what a taut, tightly wound thriller the original script was.

The not so great part is that when subsequent writers were bought on to make the story part of the 'Cloververse' that began with Cloverfield, it makes the ending feel tacked on and superfluous to the mood and style of the rest of the film.

We meet Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) leaving an apartment and a relationship in a hurry – she's alone but her situation is all conveyed through clever editing and Winstead's huge, expressive eyes and worried look.

Driving away from New Orleans later, still nervous but apparently feeling like she's made her break, tragedy strikes when another car runs into her, sending her plunging down a ravine.

When Michelle wakes up she finds herself attached to a drip, wearing only her underwear and chained to a wall in a dank, sparse cellar.

After a fruitless attempt at escape her captor reveals himself, stoic military veteran Howard (John Goodman). Howard isn't as scary as Michelle feared when it becomes apparent he's not going to kill or rape her, but far scarier than she imagined because he doesn't intend to let her go, insisting she's safe with him in his decked out bunker because of the chemical or biological attack he says has taken place up above.

Before long Michelle meets his other captive, the simple-minded local Emmett (John Gallagher Jr), and gradually life settles into a routine that's as comfortable as it can be. As Howard seems to have wished the trio become a kind of family – playing games, listening to music, watching DVDs and keeping house.

But the real mystery isn't whatever's gone on in the rest of the world, it's who Howard really is and what his motives are. He gradually opens up about the daughter he's lost, but it's not the only thing Michelle realises he's lying about. Just when the evidence that something horrible has happened up above has becomes irrefutable and Michelle seems to welcome her fate to some extent, she discovers the real monster might be down here with her (as the tagline suggests) and suddenly getting out takes on a new urgency.

When she does so, you can almost see the turning point where Bad Robot (who bought the existing script) decided to turn it into a Cloverfield movie. The world Michelle meets outside gels with what Howard's been talking about, but the essential story and the tension inherent in the telling of it evaporates.

Until then however, it's very well directed by short filmmaker Dan Trachtenberg, and the acting and interplay between the three leads is great. Extra points go to some moments of genuine shock that – even if you watch a lot of movies – you don't see coming.

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