Synopsis: Following a car accident, Michelle wakes up in an underground shelter, where her captor claims the outside world is under attack.
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr
Release date: March 18
Running time: 105 mins
The official story is that the film was developed independently (working titles included The Cellar and Valencia) before some marketing genius at J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions had the idea of tying it to the Cloverfield franchise.
Whether you believe that story or not, there’s no denying the effectiveness of its promotional campaign – and the resulting film is certainly one of the best thrillers of the year.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Michelle, a young woman who wakes up after a car accident to find herself held captive in an underground bunker by a hulking survivalist-type named Howard (John Goodman), who insists that the outside world has suffered a devastating chemical attack and the shelter represents her only chance for survival.
Released from her room, Michelle meets a third bunker occupant, Howard’s younger neighbour Emmett (John Gallagher Jr), who confirms her captor’s doomsday scenario, so the trio gradually settle into living together in the well-equipped shelter. However, Michelle becomes increasingly suspicious of Howard and begins plotting her escape.
Always a brilliant character actor, Goodman is simply magnificent, delivering a complex, multi-layered and energetic performance that keeps you constantly off-guard as it lurches violently between likeable and terrifying, hitting several points in between.
Similarly, Winstead (who’s all-too frequently under-used by Hollywood – here’s hoping this gives her the career boost she deserves) is terrific as the resourceful, determined heroine, while Gallagher brings a curiously passive go-with-the-flow quality to Emmett that makes him intriguingly difficult to read.
“Cranks up the suspense”
Trachtenberg’s control of the material is masterful throughout, borrowing liberally from Hitchcock as he expertly cranks up the suspense, with frequent tight close-ups heightening the powerfully claustrophobic atmosphere.
In addition, the tight three-hander of a script – by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and Whiplash’s Damien Chazelle – is thick with paranoia and packs in plenty of unpredictable twists and turns before blind-siding you with its nail-biting final act.
On top of that, there’s a pleasingly Bernard Herrmann-esque score from Bear McCreary and some eclectic soundtrack choices (a jukebox in the bunker provides the background to an amusingly upbeat montage sequence as they settle into their new life of jigsaws and board games), while the cleverly conceived production design is full of neat little details.
Superbly acted and brilliantly directed, this is a terrifically entertaining thriller that more than lives up to the hype.