SOME MOVIES let you know you're in good hands with the very first shot. The latest mystery wrapped in an enigma from producer J.J. Abrams, 10 Cloverfield Lane takes an instantly fraught premise and never stops stripping the screws. Within its narrow self-imposed parameters, it's just about perfect.
Related to the original Cloverfield by mood and background references only (check your nearest message board for exhaustive details), the film follows a woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who suffers a horrendous car accident. When she comes to, she finds herself locked down in an underground shelter with a none-too-bright handyman (John Gallagher Jr.) and the bunker's owner (John Goddamn Goodman), a just-so-slightly-addled survivalist who claims that the nation is under attack. Could take years, he says. Might be Russians or Martians, he says.
Winstead is terrific here, veering between understandably panicked and realistically resourceful in ways that always feel organic. Even during the rare moments of domestic downtime, her darting eyes keep you hopping. As for Goodman, he makes for an utterly terrifying authority figure, with hints of pitiably wounded pride that just render him more frightening. (As Barton Fink fans know, the man is the scariest breather in the biz.) All the performers are extremely well-served by a script that sketches out characterizations and lets the rest build through action: Watching how these three interact during a board game tells you everything you need to know, and how quickly things could escalate.
And, wow, do they ever escalate. Utilizing every nook and cranny of his limited space, director Dan Trachtenberg delivers a ruthlessly paranoid fever dream, where every stray detail carries a propulsive, mounting weight. Claustrophobes probably need not apply, but for everybody else—yes, even those who've read the spoilers—the sheer craft on display makes 10 Cloverfield Lane stick and sting. More like this, please.