Michelle (Winstead) is in turmoil, clumsily packing her bags through her tears. She heads out of her apartment, leaving her rings on the floor, and gets in her car. It’s late in the day, and just after the sun sets, she stops to get gas, keeping alert, and noticing that someone is in the car next to her. She hastily concludes the chore and gets on the road again. Then a terrible accident occurs.
When Michelle regains consciousness, she is in a strange room (not a hospital) with an IV in her arm and a locked brace around her right knee. Her belongings are across the room, but she cannot reach them until she has a bright idea and manages to pull her phone over. Alas, however, there is no signal. Presently, a very large man named Howard (Goodman) unlocks the bolted door and enters. She is terrified and thoroughly flummoxed, but he explains that he has just saved her after her accident, brought her to a safe place and given her medical attention. Furthermore, he says, there has been a major attack and it’s not safe to go outside. He had anticipated the attack and built this bunker and supplied it with provisions that will last a long while.
The mystery builds as Michelle discovers there is someone else in the bunker, Emmett (Gallagher), a young man who has known Howard as a friend and neighbor for many years. He had helped to build the shelter, and eventually asked Howard if he could move in. Emmett is a simple man—better at racing in high school than making grades—and he opted to stay near his home rather than go to college.
Howard has a strangeness about him, and Michelle never comes to trust him. As time goes on, she and Emmett discover bits of disturbing information, and Michelle never becomes convinced that any attack on the U.S. has taken place. The intrigue continues with scene after scary scene, plots, and surreptitious peeks outdoors. This is the best part of the film, when the viewer is pulled in, and for a long time not quite being able to determine who Howard is and what his intentions are. He provides food and entertainment, and shows cleverness in devising an air purification system, for example. But he is suspicious, controlling, and has a hot temper.
Winstead and Goodman are at their best in reacting to one another with a range of emotions and encounters. And Gallagher is good as well in being a follower ready to do someone else’s bidding.
Director Dan Trachtenberg has been involved in filmmaking for some time, but this is only his third time directing a feature, and I think he can be proud of this. I imagine that having J. J. Abrams as one of the producers helps, but his work with the actors, the musician Bear McCeary, cinematographer Jeff Cutter, and the rest of the team shows he has the ability to coordinate and integrate all the components of filmmaking while revving up the suspense.
A fine thriller that prolongs the suspense, with a surprising twist at the end.
Grade: A- By Donna R. Copeland