10 Cloverfield Lane (PG-13)

SciFi/Fantasy 106 min. March 11, 2016
By Alan Scherstuhl
In one key way, the kinda-maybe sequel 10 Cloverfield Lane might be the purest example yet of the J.J. Abrams house style. Directed by first-timer Dan Trachtenberg but produced by Abrams (Super 8, Lost, Alias, Cloverfield, etc.) the thriller is yet another of the fannish wunderbrand's mystery boxes, a genre tease whose marketing makes a secret not just of its twists but of its very premise. The innovation this time? Now the characters are actually inside the mystery box itself, either by proud choice (John Goodman's whiskery survivalist), desperate fear (John Gallagher Jr.'s even more whiskery builder bro), or terrifying, mysterious happenstance (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).

That's no spoiler. Some three minutes in, Winstead's Michelle awakens in a cinderblock cell, cuffed to a cot, bleeding from a head wound. But we immediately glean how resourceful she is, as she's wearing the uniform of intrepid young women in genre movies: a tight white tank-top.

We also can tell because Winstead is adept at puzzling things out as we watch, letting us see her eyes take in each clue around her, and suggesting, with quick glances or a hitch of her swooping eyebrows, that she's resolved to take resourceful action. Seeing what she does next -- with a lighter she's lucked upon or a crutch she's whittled into a shiv -- is a thrill. I'll say nothing of the film's revelations but for this: The brash madness of it all is, as the multiplexes demand, "fun," but it's kids' stuff compared to the tough, tense scenes of Michelle plotting, behind her mask of a face, as her captor/savior boasts about his own preparedness for the tragedy he insists has wiped out the rest of humanity.
Dan Trachtenberg John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr. Josh Campell, Matt Stuecken, Damien Chazelle J.J. Abrams, Lindsey Weber Paramount Pictures

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