J.J. Abrams continues his mystery box storytelling with “10 Cloverfield Lane”

"Cloverfield" Los Angeles Premiere - Arrivals
Up until he helped make Star Wars: The Force Awakens one of the biggest hits of all time, J.J. Abrams was perhaps best known for his secretive storytelling ways, both in movies and on television. Notably, the way that he and his company Bad Robot launched the trailer for Cloverfield. If you recall, that first teaser dropped in front of Transformers with absolutely no advance warning, suggesting a potential blockbuster had been made right under our noses. Once the head of the Statue of Liberty launched at us, we were sold. Abrams did that again with Super 8, and currently is doing it again with this week’s release of 10 Cloverfield Lane. I’ve now seen 10 Cloverfield Lane, which for my money is one of the best films of 2016 so far. It manages to do a lot with a little. I won’t ruin anything, but trust me when I say that this is a must see.

The film is basically a three hander about a trio of folks in a bomb shelter. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up there after crashing her car, unsure how she got there. She’s informed by Howard (John Goodman) that he’s the one who owns the shelter and found her on the side of the road, saving her life. There’s also Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who knows Howard and wanted in when…something…happened. As Michelle tries to figure out if anything really did go down outside and if the world has truly ended, she also tries to figure out just how dangerous Howard might be, if at all. Abrams produces here, while Dan Trachtenberg makes his directorial debut. The script was initially written by Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken, with a rewrite by Damien Chazelle connecting it in some manner to the Cloverfield universe. There’s a cameo by Bradley Cooper in a voice only role, but other than that, this is just Gallagher Jr., Goodman, and Winstead alone in a confined space, but boy is it ever riveting stuff.

What makes this work is just how strong Goodman and Winstead are. There’s a few twists and turns before the third act introduces something new, but by and large, we just are watching them face off, deciding who is telling the truth. It’s incredibly compelling, with both of them doing some of the best work of their careers. They breathe such life into these characters, you almost could care less about the outside world. You’ll care as things get brought up, but this would have worked on its own as just a dramatic thriller. The potential of science fiction trappings just enhance it all. I won’t dare spoil what happens, but you’ll all be satisfied.

This is pretty much just mainstream entertainment, but if any awards attention were to come for 10 Cloverfield Lane, it would be directed at John Goodman. Potentially as a dark horse Best Supporting Actor candidate during the precursor season, this would be a great way to finally recognize the actor for his years of outstanding and underrated work. It’s a real long shot, so I wouldn’t expect this to happen. More than anything else, it’s just further evidence that Abrams can weave together a film in this capacity without anyone actually knowing. I love that he does this periodically and hope that he keeps at it.

On Friday, you can support a real clever original film when 10 Cloverfield Lane hits screens. It’s a smaller movie, but a potential surprise hit. It’s a real thrill ride and deserves to be seen with an audience just as in the dark about the plot turns as you are. It works best under the cover of surprise, take my word for it there. Abrams and company should have another winner on their hands. For my money, it’s top five for 2016 so far, so it definitely has quality on its side. Definitely make time to see this one. You’ll be glad that you did…

Be sure to check out 10 Cloverfield Lane, in theaters everywhere this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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