After an argument with her boyfriend, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) drives off into the night. She has a car accident and wakes up in an underground bunker. She’s told that up above ground there has been an attack, that the air is poisoned and it’s not safe to go out until it’s clear. There are three of them underground, hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world.
So they have to make a life for themselves underground, with enough food to last several years and as many board games, DVDs and VHS tapes as you could wish endure. There’s also that all pervading sense that things aren’t quite right.
John Goodman is Howard, the owner and builder of the bunker. He is excellent at playing loveable buffoons or deeply sinister characters. Here he is both in equal measure. It’s this imbalance that makes you question his motives, whether he is telling the truth. Further shades of grey are introduced through fellow bunker resident Emmett. Does he know anything, or is he as innocent as Michelle? The script twists and turns around these points quite deftly and leaving you with no clear idea who is the villain of the piece. If, indeed, there is a villain to speak of.
There is a very definitive undercurrent to the interactions between the three characters. We see things from Michelle’s perspective, which leaves a question mark over the heads of Howard and Emmett. This disconnect between her thoughts and theirs is where the genuine tension is built. Thankfully if you’ve seen the trailer then you’ve not had too much spoiled. In fact, very little is spoiled, which is a refreshing change in this era of trailers giving us pretty much the whole film.
…and then the last 15 minutes happen and it all falls apart. It’s a real shame, because up until that point things were going rather well indeed. While the final act and resolution isn’t enough to completely ruin the preceding 80-odd minutes, it does tarnish the film’s concept. Perhaps tying it into the Cloverfield franchise wasn’t the best of ideas from a creative standpoint.
I’ve got a few issues with some of the later developments too. There’s a conceit that Michelle has to reach an otherwise inaccessible area of the bunker so they can survive. This feels very much like a script conceit more than anything else, as any sensible person would design and build the bunker so that important systems can be reached with ease, rather than through an air duct. There must have been a better way of doing this which would have made sense.
Aside from the fact the ending feels like it was tacked on and provided by a completely different script, it remains a very good film. It’s just a shame they felt they had to go in the direction they did. I would have preferred it to be a standalone film in its own right, at least then the expectation of using the Cloverfield brand wouldn’t have been so triumphantly besmirched.