One of the first things a viewer notices about Cloverfield is that it doesn't play by ordinary storytelling rules, making this intriguing horror film as much a novelty as an event. Told from the vertiginous point-of-view of a camcorder-wielding group of friends, Cloverfield begins like a television soap opera about young Manhattanites coping with changes in their personal lives. Rob (Michael Stahl-David) is leaving New York to take an executive job at a company in Japan. At his goodbye party in a crowded loft, Robs brother Jason (Mike Vogel) hands a camcorder to best friend Hud (T.J. Miller), who proceeds to tape the proceedings over old footage of Robs ex-girlfriend, Beth (Odette Yustman)--images shot during happy times in their ex-relationship. Naturally, Beth shows up at the party with a new beau, bumming Rob out completely. Just before one's eyes glaze over from all this heartbreaking stuff (captured by Hud, who's something of a doofus, in laughably shaky camerawork), the unexpected happens: New York is suddenly under attack from a Godzilla-like monster stomping through midtown and destroying everything and everybody in sight. Rob and company hit the streets, but rather than run with other evacuees, they head toward the center of the storm so that Rob can rescue an injured Beth. There are casualties along the way, but the journey into fear is fascinating and immediate if emotionally remote--a consequence of seeing these proceedings through the singular, subjective perspective of a camcorder and of a story that intentionally leaves major questions unanswered: Who or what is this monster? Where did it come from? The lack of a backstory, and spare views of the marauding creature, are clever ways by producer J.J. Abrams and director Matt Reeves to keep an audience focused exclusively on whats on the screen. But it also makes Cloverfield curiously uninvolving. Ultimately, Cloverfield, with its spectacular effects brilliantly woven into a home-video look, is a celebration of infinite possibilities in this age of accessible, digital media. -Tom Keogh
A highly-classified video tape confiscated by the U.S. military shows the devastating effects of a monster attack on New York City. Crudely shot on handycam by a group of friends at a party, the film quickly evolves into a blow-by-blow account of the most surreal and terrifying ordeal of their young lives. The first 20 minutes or so could easily be mistaken for some glossy American soap opera, populated as it is by successful, good-looking people. As the camera clumsily weaves its way around the party guests, we're treated to snippets of conversations that provide a back story to the characters' lives. Suddenly and without warning, a series of earth-shattering tremors rock the city, causing mass panic in the streets below. It soon becomes apparent that this is no natural disaster as the city is ripped apart by some gargantuan and malevolent force.
Creature features such as this are often only as good as their special effects will allow, and Cloverfield
scores very highly in that department. The visuals are simply stunning and so seamlessly executed that they'll have you ducking for cover. In fact, some of the effects are so uncomfortably realistic--buildings collapsing into plumes of smoke, bits of debris falling from the sky--that they will inevitably evoke painful memories of 9/11. The filmmakers were careful not to reveal the monster too early on in the film, as the anticipation of seeing it for the first time is half the fun. Instead, they tease the viewer with flashes of a giant tail or leg in between skyscrapers. This makes the final reveal that much more satisfying, as the unknown becomes known. But where the film tantalises, it also frustrates as it offers no answers to the most obvious questions; what is this thing? How did it suddenly appear out of nowhere? What's its beef with New York City? Ironically, it's this very inscrutability that makes the film so intriguing, as we are reminded that wanton acts of destruction--such as the terrorist attacks of 9/11--always leave questions unanswered. Shot in real-time in a cinema verite style similar to The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield's
exploitation of the digital video format is a bold move that pays off handsomely.