That's no spoiler. Some three minutes in, after opening titles that give jarring new meaning to the term “smash cut,” Winstead's Michelle awakens in a cinderblock cell, cuffed to a
We also can tell because Winstead is adept at puzzling things out as we watch, letting us see her eyes take in each clue around her, and suggesting, with quick glances or a hitch of her swooping eyebrows, that she's resolved to take resourceful action. Seeing what she does next — with a lighter she's lucked upon or a crutch she's whittled into a shiv — is one of the film's true thrills.
Even when Michelle is playing nice for her captor, Winstead's eyes are alert, even calculating, and director Trachtenberg usually lets us know everything that she does. That makes 10 Cloverfield Lane engaging in a way Hollywood event films usually aren't: It invites us to work out what her next move should be. It's like one of those locked-room, team-building games where you have to figure out how to escape with the couple of items you've been given, except with John Goodman insisting that, no, actually, you don't want to get out — this is a survival bunker, and there's been an attack of some sort, terrorist or alien or Cloverfield, and the air outside will kill you. Michelle's glimpses of the farmland surrounding the shelter aren't encouraging, and Goodman's Howard, a stern and prideful rule-maker, keeps insisting that she should be grateful he bothered to save her. (Also that she should use coasters and re-sleeve any DVDs she watches.)
All that setup gets paid off, generously, in spectacular fashion. This is no tease like that time when the Lost gang found an underground bunker but then didn't actually open it until the next season. I'll say nothing of the film's revelations but for this: The brash madness of it all is, as the multiplexes demand, “fun,” but it's kids' stuff compared with the tough, tense scenes of Michelle plotting, behind her mask of a face, as her captor/savior prattles on about his own preparedness for the tragedy he insists has wiped out the rest of humanity. Such scenes play out around a cozy dinner table or in an underground living room tricked out with a “Home Sweet Home” cross-stitch. That perverse domesticity must be the inspiration
Of course, that gives Michelle more time to improvise weapons and escape plans, the specifics of which prove more compelling than the bigger secrets. Since her immediate situation is so nerve-racking, it might make sense that Michelle never finds time to mourn her friends, her family, her aspirations. (She had wanted to be a fashion designer, a skill that, amusingly, actually comes in handy.) Even without
The good news is that there's more bad news before you know it, and Winstead, an actress with chops and potent star power, is right back to raw-eyed scheming — and inviting us along with each turn of her mind. Her Michelle is a welcome revision of final-girl horror plotting: She's usually a step ahead of us, and she's always striving to get out there even further. Maybe she'll be back in Cloverfield Goes Bananas.