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The American Astronaut

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Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace

Does the original trilogy justice in terms of heart, action, and fun —Marty Mapes (review...)

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Boasting only the loosest of connections to 2008’s Cloverfield, 10 Cloverfield Lane generates plenty of tension before delivering a third-act jolt.

Director Dan Trachtenberg bravely challenges shock-hungry audiences by slowing the pace of a drama in which a young woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) awakens in a bunker built by a survivalist farmer (John Goodman) after her car spins off the road.

Michelle and Howard: Switching places
Michelle and Howard: Switching places

Goodman’s Howard tells Winstead’s Michelle that the US has suffered a terrible attack that has left the atmosphere poisoned. There are no survivors, he says.

Therein lies the source of the movie’s tension: Is Howard a kidnapping monster or has the world really been ravaged by aliens or Russians, as he suggests?

Inside Howard’s bunker, Winstead’s Michelle also meets Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), a young man who helped build the bunker and who was allowed in by the domineering Howard.

At times, the movie becomes a claustrophobic three-hander with the wary survivors trying to get along. They adjust to one another as best they can. They play board games. Howard watches a video tape of Pretty in Pink, perhaps the least likely choice for such a hulking colossus.

Trachtenberg slowly reveals the ways of the bunker, which is equipped with a kitchen and living room area, a pantry where food is kept, separate rooms for Michelle and Howard and an air filtration system that blocks out lethal gasses.

Both Gallagher and Winstead hold their own, but Goodman gives the movie’s most compelling performance as a survivalist and conspiracy nut of intimidating bulk.

I won’t say more, but 10 Cloverfield Lane deserves credit for not trying to mimic the found-footage approach of the original Cloverfield. You won’t get dizzy watching it.

Before it’s done, 10 Cloverfield Lane takes an unexpected turn or two. So don’t be fooled by a bit of rope-a-dope pacing; by the end, the movie delivers a strong punch.