10 Cloverfield Lane: No safe haven

10 Cloverfield Lane, which marks the feature debut of director Dan Trachtenberg, is not a sequel to the 2008 sci-fi thriller in the strictest sense of the term, but rather a spin-off. Only at the end does it tie in to the narrative of the first film (at which point, actually, it loses much of its novelty).

Whereas the first film boasted cardboard characters and dazzling visual effects, 10 Cloverfield Lane’s emphasis is on characterization.

Following a car accident, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) awakens to find herself in an underground bunker, tended to by the grizzled and mysterious Howard (John Goodman). Also present is Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who concurs with Howard’s assessment that a chemical attack has taken place and this is their only safe haven.

Taking a page (or two) from last year’s Room, the tense trio attempts to establish some form of domesticity within their limited confines, but Michelle can’t help but wonder whether Howard is actually their protector or their captor.

Essentially a three-hander, 10 Clo verfield Lane is something of an actor’s showcase, within the context of its genre. Winstead and Gallagher are appealing and likable, and Goodman is having a ball as the hair-trigger Howard, veering smoothly and sharply from avuncular to threatening. Sharp-eared viewers may also notice a familiar voice as Melissa’s estranged boyfriend in an early scene.

Trachtenberg, working under the auspices of executive producer JJ Abrams (who performed the same function on Cloverfield), keeps things moving along, with touches of gallows humor and some genuinely suspenseful moments. All in all, 10 Cloverfield Lane is superior to Cloverfield – and the ending portends more to come. !