10 Cloverfield Lane (4 stars)

10 Cloverfield Lane

Character-driven sci-fi spin-off, with John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Before he took over the known universe with Stars both Trek and Wars, JJ Abrams had his sights set on Planet Earth, producing the cannily marketed 2008 alien invasion movie Cloverfield. Fan speculation has raged for years, and it remains the rare film that could actually use a sequel or, in this case, sidequel.

Sharply directed by debut feature helmer Dan Trachtenberg from a sparkling script by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken and Damien Chazelle (of Whiplash fame), 10 Cloverfield Lane is every bit the original's equal. An arresting, almost wordless, opening sees protagonist Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) leaving everything – her flat, her boyfriend, her engagement ring – behind. But even before the credits roll, her car's rolling too, and she wakes up in a bunker belonging to batshit survivalist Howard (John Goodman). He tells her there's been a chemical attack above ground, that he saved her life, that everyone except them and tag-along Emmett (John Gallagher Jr) is dead. But is Howard eccentric or delusional? Their saviour or their captor?

The answers to these increasingly thorny questions play out across 103 tense-as-hell minutes, like a three-way Misery with vague sci-fi rumblings in the background. The film is unusually invested in its characters, the actors excellent (Goodman was born to play this role), and even Gallagher Jr – on the face of it the comic relief – has a moving tale of how, back in the real world, people only trap themselves.

Those looking for horror of a less psychological nature needn't fear: the film repeatedly twists the knife. And anyway, who cares if aliens / the apocalypse / the fantasies of a madman are to blame, if you don't care about the characters? As Howard says, staring bug-eyed out of the screen: 'People are strange creatures.' Let's hope it's not another eight years before we pass this way again.

General release from Fri 18 Mar.

10 Cloverfield Lane

  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • US
  • 1h 45min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Dan Trachtenberg
  • Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.
  • UK release: 18 March 2016

Michelle (Winstead) crashes her car and wakes up in a bunker belonging to survivalist Howard (Goodman), who tells her there's been a chemical attack above ground. Tense-as-hell sidequel to 2008 alien invasion movie Cloverfield, with a sparkling script and outstanding performances, especially from Goodman.