Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Writers: Josh Campbell (story), Matthew Stuecken (story)
Stars: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.
A taut and thrilling, psychological horror acting as a sequel to and sharing the same universe as Cloverfield (2008), from then feature film debutant Dan Trachtenberg. It follows the claustrophobic and intense experience of three people inside a doomsday bunker. Howard (John Goodman), the owner and architect behind its design, has been preparing for a potential armageddon style attack for years and, with the help of his neighbour Emmett (John Gallagher Jr), has created quite the cosy, little retreat, complete with air locked doors, a filtration system and plentiful supplies of food. Despite his apparent generosity in saving their lives, doubts remain throughout regarding his motives and whether he’s being entirely truthful or not.
Opening with the frantic and distraught Louisiana native, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) packing her bags after an argument with her husband and driving out into the night. The shrieking score from Bear McCreary builds to a crescendo, as she’s harassed on the phone by her partner, before hitting a skid on the road (or is she forced off?), flying down an embankment and losing consciousness. When she awakes, it’s not in her overturned car, but a strange, dinky, breeze block decorated room, on a painfully thin bed that my Labrador would turn it’s nose up at. Chained to a wall, she soon meets Howard, who slides a plate full of food her way, before reassuring her that the chain is for her safety, merely temporary and that he saved her life. He then breaks the terrible news that the she won’t be able to get a signal on her phone, she’s trying at this point, as there’s been an attack above and everyone is more than likely dead. Appearing a little disbelieving at this news, and who could blame her, she tries pleading with Howard, but he soon leaves her to ponder on her predicament again, after a crashing noise is heard outside the room.
Shortly afterwards, Michelle is introduced to Emmett, who has seems to have an unwavering belief in Howard’s attack theory, and the three are soon sat down at dinner. The dark side of the latter’ personality is quickly highlighted in this tense, awkward, introductory scene between the three as he angrily berates Michelle for appearing to get a little too cosy with Emmett. This isn’t helped any when she attacks him and attempts to escape, grabbing his keys and making a dash for the door. What she witnesses at the entrance gives her second thoughts however and she despondently returns to safety below. The film then enters an extended middle act in which the three seem to live away amiably for a reasonable amount of time, reading books, playing games and doing jigsaw puzzles to help pass away the tedious wait for the air to clear, this interrupted intermittently by the occasional rumbling from above, some minor emergencies below or a sporadic bout of rage from Howard. Despite his hospitality and even rare moments of kindness, doubts continue to gnaw away at the other two, who’ve bonded and developed a strong friendship by this stage.
These appear to be vindicated when Michelle discovers a message scratched into another escape hatch, whilst being tasked with restarting the air filtration system. This along with two earrings belonging to a girl who disappeared a couple of years earlier, causes the pair to try and manufacture a way of escaping their now seemingly deluded and potentially deranged captor. Ultimately, as you’d expect, this leads to a confrontation with Howard, with Emmett taking the blame for everything, making a tragic sacrifice to save Michelle. This sparks the film into a fairly chaotic final act as the latter, who has made a rudimentary gas mask and suit attempts to escape the clutch of the determined Howard, and upon doing so, makes a startling discovery. The final ten to fifteen minutes of this film are so different to the rest that it almost feels like a different genre at the end, but thankfully it’s cleverly handled (it could have been disastrous in the wrong hands) and the visuals, which are pretty special for different reasons throughout, are on point to provide a fitting end. I say fitting because Michelle seems almost relieved to be away from the psychological powder-keg below, this despite the horrors above the ground being the very definition of ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’ and it perfectly marries with the more sci-fi setting of Cloverfield.
John Goodman is immense in this film. He’s a fantastic character actor and he plays the part of the villainous and lamentable Howard to perfection. His unpredictable mood swings added some real anxiety to the proceedings as you just never knew how he was going to react in a given situation. This was perfectly encapsulated when the trio were playing an innocent game together and the tension was almost unbearable. Winstead was fantastic too as Michelle, sharing the leading role with Goodman to real effect and perfectly showcasing the characters keen intelligence, quick thinking and determination, grabbing the bull by the horns in the final act and turning into a full blown Sarah Connor-esque heroine. Gallagher Jr as Emmett added a different flavour to the dynamic between the trio and despite having less screen time or effect on the story as a whole, his too was a pretty decent performance. I really can’t fault any of them here.
I’ve been meaning to get round to watching this film, though for some reason I kept putting it off, but I’m so glad I finally got round to it. It was a thoroughly enjoyable watch and my attention never really dipped at any stage, which is a real testament to the writers; Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken and Damian Chazelle who produced an engrossing, tense story, not to mention the beautiful, smooth visuals from Jeff Cutter and some excellent direction by Trachtenberg. Highly recommended viewing from me.