Small favors: If there’s something about a movie that you absolutely can’t talk about without spoilers, it might as well be literally the only thing wrong with it. Because for around 90 minutes, this pocket-sized thriller—about Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who wakes up from a car accident chained in the fallout shelter of a man named Howard (John Goodman) who claims there’s been an apocalyptic event outside—is almost a textbook example of how to build suspense through character and situation rather than cheap jump-scares. With only one other person (John Gallagher Jr.) in that shelter, and a swirling uncertainty over how much of Howard’s story is true, director Dan Trachtenberg builds a cat-and-mouse game around the collisions between Michelle’s intelligence and Howard’s paranoid-but-still-maybe-right intensity. And that game is bolstered by terrific performances, particularly Goodman’s brilliant display of twisted entitlement to respect. The conclusion can’t quite hold up to the level of everything that comes before, when the story is built around crisis psychology, and the question of whether you’re willing to risk that the monster you don’t know is less monstrous than the one you do know (105 min.).
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Producer: J.J. Abrams, Lindsey Weber, Bryan Burk, Drew Goddard and Matt Reeves
Cast: John Goodman, Mary Winstead and John Gallagher Jr.