Year Released: 2016
Directed by: Dan Trachtenberg
Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.
(PG-13, 105 min.)
Genre: Mystery and Suspense, Drama, Science Fiction
“NO! NO! No, no! No! Don't open that door! You're going to get all of us killed!” Howard Stambler
The Room meets War of the Worlds. John Goodman, the master of his cozy underground bunker, keeps us on tenterhooks as we wonder if he is Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde.
And we get plenty of indications of each. After being injured in a car crash, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up to find “she's locked in a cellar with a doomsday prepper, who insists that he saved her life and that the world outside is uninhabitable following an apocalyptic catastrophe.”
Of course, her “savior,” Howard Stamber (John Goodman) is certainly no knight in shining armor, as indicated by Michele’s legbrace being chained to an iron railing.
John tells her there has been some kind of major attack and that it is not safe outside, as witnessed by the two dead and deformed pigs decaying just outside the bunker. He also introduces her to another bunker resident, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who also is injured with his arm in a sling. However, Emmett tells Michelle he has been injured forcing his way into the bunker looking for safety.
In the hands of another actor, Howard might come off as one dimensional, but John Goodman’s performance brings an ambivalent complexity to the role. On the one hand, he is a fussy homebody, referring to his “heirloom dining table” with pride, and insisting that meals are a sit down “family” affair. The elaborate bunker is well stocked with its own functioning jukebox, which Howard plays with a smile and something almost approaching gaiety.
But spontaneous humor, especially between Michele and Emmett, is met with a harsh rebuke on the edge of violence, which spurs Michelle to grab Howard’s keys and make a run for the stairs up to freedom and the outside world, no matter his warnings.
She makes it to the top and maneuvers herself into an airlock area between two doors. Howard is locked out behind her pleading with her not to open the second door to the outside. She is just about to when a disfigured woman bangs on the outer door. Maybe the pigs were not just props. Reluctantly, Michele keeps the door locked and returns to the bunker.
Howard, who has a background in the navy, thinks there has been some sort of chemical attack and predicts the 3 of them will have to exist below for at least a full year. But he has fully prepared for this event, with stocked shelves, a sophisticated venting system, running water, refrigeration, and enough games, puzzles, and movies to last through a rainy weekend with the grandkids.
As the days lag, the film speeds up. Elaborate jigsaw puzzles assemble themselves at warp speed; monopoly disperses wealth and bankruptcy almost as quickly as it does now in real time. All is well, sort of.
But we all know this is merely the lull to set us up for the next cataclysm. Will it be external or internal, where an uneasy truce between Howard and his coerced guests, who he thinks owe him their lives, threatens to literally become that scenario?
Fans of the 2008’s Cloverfield (New York Appetizers) should be forewarned that this film is related only in spirit to the former found footage release, a fox-eyed version of the hunt, terrifying and thrilling, with a heart in the mouth desperation and an outcome almost as inevitable.
Today’s feature offers a tighter plot, better developed characters, and certainly enough twists and turns to defy labeling anything here inevitable. Whether or not that makes up for an ending that spins a bit out of control, only you can decide.
Howard puts together a spaghetti dinner, but apologizes for it. “The sauce isn’t that great,” he says. But then he gets especially irritated when Emmett declares it the best sauce he has ever eaten.
Only when Emmett clarifies that it only tastes so wonderful to him because he is glad to be alive in the bunker rather than out there, probably dead, is he reluctantly forgiven.
Let’s perk up grumpy Howard’s cooking confidence with our Super Simple Spaghetti Sauce recipe. He should have no trouble finding the ingredients in his well-stocked bunker pantry.
Super Simple Spaghetti Sauce
1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (15 ounce) can tomato saucet
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
2 tablespoons sugar (please adjust to your taste)
1⁄2 teaspoon basil
1⁄2 teaspoon oregano
1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
Throw it all in a sauce pan, stir, simmer, cover and continue to simmer for 20-30 minutes
Season again to taste.
**We like a spicy sweet sauce -- so please adjust the sugar and crushed red to your liking**.