Cloverfield flies off the screen like few movies of its kind ever have. Of course, acknowledging that there have been more movies of its kind might even be a little stretch. Using a first person point of view and the advent of technology that makes it possible for you to capture a video of just about anything, anywhere at any time, Cloverfield reinvents the monster movie with shaky handheld camera tricks, jump cuts, and a palpable, believable panic in the face of certain disaster.
It’s a dizzying, unsettling film that only works once, joining The Blair Witch Project and Orson Welles’ radio drama, The War of the Worlds, as pop culture phenomena that feel so real, you’re actually let down when you find out it never happened.
Of course, you know going into Cloverfield that a giant monster hasn’t destroyed New York City, but based on the number of times New York has been demolished in the movies, the fact that anything in Cloverfield makes you jump or even makes you nervous should indicate that this movie is playing by different rules. What begins as a going away party for a twenty-something professional, with goodbye testimonials being taped for posterity, becomes a combination of viral video, eyewitness news, and the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan all rolled into one.
The shaky camera and all the rest are neat gimmicks; they underscore that with any monster story, it’s never important to show us everything. Indeed, much of the tension in Cloverfield comes from off-camera reactions to explosions or similar destruction that also happen off-camera. This is not a movie about a monster attack so much as it is about what people do and feel during a monster attack.
There is no military HQ, like in a Godzilla movie, where the best minds of the government plan a way to end the attack. There is only a diminishing group of five friends. They don’t know any more or less than we know. They’re just trying, in classic action movie fashion, to get the hell out of there.
Directed by TV vet Matt Reeves, but with the identifiable fingerprints of its producer, Lost and Alias creator J.J. Abrams, Cloverfield has benefited from perfectly tailored Internet marketing, and it’s the audience that responded so overwhelmingly to the viral marketing that will get the most enjoyment out of the film, although “enjoyment” may not be the goal at all. It’s a grand experiment that is its own payoff, regardless of whether or not New York City gets destroyed. Again.
Starring Michael Stahl-David, Lizzy Caplan and T.J. Miller
Directed by Matt Reeves