Let’s address the elephant in the room first: this is barely related to the original film. That said, it’s still a highly enjoyable suspense thriller in it’s own right and well worth your time. Some minor spoilers will follow, but I’ll try to be vague enough so as to not give away major details.
Aspiring fashion designer Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is fleeing from her fiance when her car flips off the road. She awakes to find herself in an underground bunker run by Howard (John Goodman), who tells her there was an attack and that it is not safe to go outside. While she eventually accepts his story, both she and the bunker’s other occupant Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) believe there is more to Howard’s motives than he says.
Plot & Writing
Simply put, this is one of the most suspenseful films I’ve seen in past few years. The combination of great acting and sharply written dialog keeps the audience guessing as to Howard’s true motives. He reveals details of his past that appear true on the surface, but the two others discover clues that maybe he’s not whom he seems and start to make their own plans. Even a simple “Password”-style game ends up being simultaneously horrifying and funny, as neither Michelle nor Emmett are entirely sure if Howard knows their plans, or if he is actually just playing the game. I honestly don’t want to say too much here, as to do so would be to spoil the sheer thrill of the experience.
Where things falter is the climatic scene, which is an action-horror scene. Taken on it’s own it’s mostly fine, even if I’m not sure you can do that with even the strongest whiskey. Yes, I’m trying very hard not to spoil the film, but I had to mention the whiskey; if you’ve seen the film, you know what I mean. The entire scene really feels like it was tacked by marketing in order to draw a larger audience. Even with how good the rest is, and as stated not a bad scene in and of itself, it did still seem out of place.
Recently, there have been several really good films with extremely small casts; Ex Machina and Room come immediately to mind as excellent examples of such. This is another film in that that fits that description. Aside from the three main characters, only one other actor has a brief on-screen appearance. Winstead is an excellent audience surrogate, with her confusion and actions immediately gaining our sympathies, while Gallagher provides the sympathetic ear and comic relief. As good as those two are, it is Goodman who really makes this film, as he is simply outstanding. He is able to portray Howard as cautious but caring in one moment, and then flip to complete psychopath the next. It really is one of the best performances of his I’ve seen.
Music & Visuals
While the acting here is outstanding, it is these two elements that add the polish to the film’s atmosphere.
The score is an extremely creepy mix of bass and string instruments that on it’s own can make your skin crawl. Some classic 60s through 80s pop music, played from a jukebox of course, lightens the mood on occasion. That said, being honest, it can be a bit overpowering at times, but that’s more in the sound mixing than the score itself.
Similarly, the bunker set is near perfect. It feels real, like something an true survivalist would make. As such, it feels claustrophobic enough to be confining, but open enough that it never feels unlivable should the three need to continue to live there. There are also several scenes inside ventilation ducts which if you do suffer claustrophobia will definitely make you feel uncomfortable.
However, the visuals in the climax are a bit of a letdown. As with the plot, they aren’t bad, they just don’t fit with what came before. This is again where they appear to tie the film to Cloverfield and aren’t entirely successful in doing so, and may have just been better not tying the two films together.
Generally speaking, it is the last act of a film that leaves the strongest impression on me. As let down by that climatic scene, I have to say one final thing about it that I, to this point, have not hinted at. It’s only about the final 10 minutes, if that, of the film. Before then there is a false climax, and the film to that point is absolutely superb. That the actual climax is only okay doesn’t actually hurt the film that much, it just keeps it from being truly great. Even with that fault, I have to admit it does set up for future movies along this line, and that can only be considered a good thing they remain of this quality.
This is a solid, entertaining film. I highly recommend it for fans of suspense films, and it should be enjoyable for general audiences as well.