10 CLOVERFIELD LANE | ★★★★

Eight years ago, "Cloverfield" became an unexpected sensation among moviegoers. Not only was it a delightfully frightening sci-fi thriller, it was proof that found-footage flicks could transcend their status as relatively cheap gimmicks. Talks of a potential sequel/follow-up soon began circulating immediately after the film's success, but all that slowly died down in the years that followed. Just when it seemed like the word "Cloverfield" would never be heard again, J.J. Abrams and his team at Bad Robot Productions have treated audiences to "10 Cloverfield Lane," another sci-fi thriller that equals the intensity of its predecessor, yet is a completely different experience in every single way. There are no monsters this time around...or so it seems. To change things up, director Dan Trachtenberg forgoes contemporary shaky-cam terrors and takes on a very old-fashioned approach. In short, "10 Cloverfield Lane" has the semblance an Alfred Hitchcock adaptation of a story written by Stephen King and H.G. Wells.

After being knocked unconscious in a car accident, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up with her fractured leg chained to a wall in a cellar. Her captor, Howard (John Goodman), claims that he actually saved her and brought her into his fallout shelter while the world above falls victim to an attack. The two are also accompanied by Emmet (John Gallagher Jr.), who vouches for everything Howard has told Michelle. Although his logic is sound, Michelle remains suspicious of Howard's intentions and secretly attempts her escape, to see if the world is truly uninhabitable.

The Hitchcockian influence on Trachtenberg's debut feature is made clear throughout the film. Its female-centric story echoes that of "Psycho" while its claustrophobic setting will remind seasoned viewers of "Rear Window." Fans of Stephen King will surely notice that Michelle's car accident, injured leg, and Howard's insistence that she remain in his care are all recycled from "Misery." The only difference, of course, is that the genders have been swapped. Though the film borrows from these masters of suspense, Trachtenberg confidently keeps everything tightly wound with solid character development and incredible performances from his three leads.

Goodman is the center of attention here. Unlike Kathy Bates' outwardly insane performance in "Misery," Goodman chooses to downplay Howard's aggressive tendencies as much as he can, toying with our assumptions that he may not be entirely stable. It's an unsettling, multi-layered performance that will go down as one of his very best. The real gem, however, is Winstead. Without her, half of the film would not work as well as it does. Michelle may not be as psychologically compelling as Howard, but the gears in her head are constantly turning, and Winstead successfully communicates such urgency with remarkable depth. Gallagher Jr. does not have much to work with as Emmet, but his more blithesome performance balances the other two out, diffusing the film's tension without eliminating it.

Once "10 Cloverfield Lane" finds itself in H.G. Wells' territory during the last ten minutes, there are surprises at nearly every turn. It's an ending that initially seems so out of left field, but since we only know as much as Michelle does, it's clear that Trachtenberg and the screenwriters intended it be such a questionable shock. After all, the film wouldn't be worthy of the "Cloverfield" title without those last ten minutes. These final moments officially signal the beginning of an exciting new sci-fi thriller franchise that will (hopefully) flow in the same vein as "The Twilight Zone" and "Black Mirror." On its own terms, "10 Cloverfield Lane" is a breathtaking experience from start to finish; a claustrophobic spine-chiller rife with excitement and paranoia.

(8/10)