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'10 Cloverfield Lane' is a spookier and quieter cousin of the 2008 original

“10 Cloverfield Lane” (2016) – If 1999’s “The Blair Witch Project” is the granddaddy of the found footage horror movie genre, then 2008’s “Cloverfield” is its badder and scarier grandson. Instead of a remote, rural setting in which the snap of twigs - outside a tent in the middle of the night - gives the audience the chilling creeps, “Cloverfield” terrorizes with a monster attack – on a Godzilla-like scale - in the concrete jungle of New York City. Hand-held cameras catch glimpses – and sometimes direct shots - of the creature and its demented spawn, while a group of 20-somethings scamper and dart around rubble and run over demolished streets.

J.J. Abrams’ 2008 picture truly is a stunner and arguably the best of the found footage films (although one could make a good case for 2007’s zombie picture, “[REC]”). Well, for me, the title belongs to “Cloverfield”. Needless to say, I was quite enthusiastic for a follow-up film, and after my 1 hour 43 minute movie theatre experience with “10 Cloverfield Lane”, I was happy and very satisfied, but this film is not exactly a sequel. It also works on a much smaller scale in terms of geography and scope, as director Dan Trachtenberg’s movie is set in a small, Louisiana town.

The picture opens in New Orleans as Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) gazes out her apartment window and contemplates her immediate future. She decides to leave her husband (or perhaps, fiancé), packs a bag, sets her diamond ring and house key on a table, and hops in her car towards anywhere but here. Very soon, however, Michelle discovers that her life has become enormously more complicated – on a macro and micro level - at her destination of Anywhere.

In order to avoid giving away the main narrative, I’ll refrain from providing the details of her new and unexpected destination but will reveal that Michelle meets two men: an older conspiracy theorist named Howard (John Goodman) and seemingly docile guy - about her age - named Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.). Outside circumstances bring the three together, and these very different human beings make due, but Howard’s odd and demanding behavior creates tension for Emmett and Michelle, but especially for her. Since Michelle is the only female in a group of three, the screenplay adds an unspoken and defensive anxiety to an already stressful situation for her.

Gallagher Jr. does a nice job, but Goodman and Winstead are the movie’s main players and deliver excellent performances which keep us off-balance and offer hope, respectively.

Goodman’s character volleys between good intentions and kooky weirdness, and the latter appears with an occasional, threatening utterance like, “My generosity only goes so far.”

Meanwhile, Winstead’s Michelle harvests an everlasting reservoir of ingenuity and strength. She may have run from her partner without a face-to-face confrontation, but Michelle is no fool or coward. She possesses an ideal mix of beauty, depth and creativity but coupled with an emotions-on-her-sleeve vulnerability, Michelle is instantly and magnetically likeable. This strong protagonist is much needed and welcomed, and especially when the movie provides heavy doses of a psychological thriller and twisting expectations.

Again, do not expect “10 Cloverfield Lane” to reveal itself as a linear sequel to the 2008 film, and in fact, do not anticipate a found footage experience or even a horror film in the purest sense. We do not hear breaking twigs or see massive metropolitan destruction to turn our blood cold. Instead, expect a disturbing and highly interesting celluloid page-turner - led by two outstanding lead performances - which send us towards a surprising realization: “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a spookier and quieter cousin of the 2008 original, and you know what they say about the quiet ones. (3/4 stars)

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