The film opens with a young woman waking up after a terrible accident to find that she's locked in an underground cellar by a doomsday survivalist, who insists that he saved her after an apocalyptic catastrophe.
It’s an opening that establishes virtually everything that’s great about the film as a whole. What makes it so incessantly memorable is the fact that it builds on those opening moments, intensifying them and drawing them out in continuously fascinating ways.
The woman, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, is initially skeptical of Howard’s (John Goodman) explanation that he’s rescued her from some kind of attack that’s wiped out mankind.
“In a year or maybe two," he says, "the air will become breathable once more and we will be able to leave.”
John Goodman as Howard, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle
Photo Credit - Michele K. Short
The “we” includes his former handyman, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who unlike Michelle (Winstead), begged for an invitation into Howard’s self-contained bunker. There’s rationed food, board games, magazines, clean clothes, filtered water, plenty of VHS films and breathable air, he informs her and for a while, they pass the time bonding, playing games and chowing down tasteless pasta. But after a series of events occur, Michelle becomes uncertain what to believe and determines that she must escape at any cost.
It’s a flick that keeps you on your toes, and with just three characters in a relatively confined space, there’s a claustrophobic quality, which brilliantly adds to the tension.
Goodman, who often plays the good guy, gives an astounding performance. Eerie, menacing, creepy and exceedingly paranoid, he’s the perfect casting choice as Howard. Gallagher Jr. as Emmett is not the brightest, but feels authentic and likable, but it's Winstead’s character who struggles against a captor who might or might not be saving her life who is the standout here.
It’s an exceptionally good film with tautly directed high-tension scenes that are brilliantly executed by Dan Trachtenberg. This marks his first feature film.
Produced by J.J. Abrams and Lindsey Weber, it’s a superbly-crafted, somber and truly frightening flick. It will draw you in and hold you transfixed.
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