First, give yourself a pat on the back after seeing this movie, which is not an easy physical task due to the camera style (remember The Blair Witch Project). Second, ignore the surprisingly unrelated title (unless a possible sequel proves otherwise – maybe an origin reference). Now, you can experience this one and a half hour documentary-style thriller full of great filmmaking.
This style can be shaky, but shocking – a realistic look which puts audiences right in the trenches with a group of young New Yorkers. Director Matt Reeves (Felicity) synchronizes several action shots together while gradually giving audiences more peeks at a large, uninvited guest. Reeves gives audiences some creature comfort by providing some well-timed and unique breaks in the action. The balanced direction avoids manipulation while including some slower, raw footage moments, which adds to the realism.
Most amateur filmmakers won’t be filming a non-stop action epic while they’re actually deeply involved in it. This unique perspective makes audiences often forget there’s a talented technical crew in charge of your viewing area. They seem to work very hard to get that perfect shot with the special effects placement commanding the camera and vice versa.
Screenwriter Drew Goddard (Lost and Alias) tells the story through the camera in his strong screenplay. The visuals match the story as well as Goddard builds relationships within the timeline of the tape. Predictably, the military gets involved, but that’s about all audiences can expect for sure. Goddard’s best dialogue scene comes short and sweet as a group talks about love while walking through a train tunnel. Producer J.J. Abrams (Mission Impossible III and the upcoming Star Trek film) takes a page from his own career by casting relatively unknown television stars who have the potential for a great film career.
Reeves establishes the cast’s relationships well in the beginning farewell party, which soon gets disrupted by some catastrophic events. Rob, played by Michael Stahl-David (The Black Donnellys), has a brother Jason, played by Mike Vogel, and a best friend named Hud, played by played by T.J. Miller (Carpoolers). Since it’s Rob’s party, he’s the center of the show while Hud provides most of the camera footage. Hud also provides some great comic relief, including an impromptu brainstorm about how they can reach a possible survivor.
Odette Yustman (October Road and South Beach) also factors into Rob’s life as the beautiful Beth. Jason’s girlfriend Lily, played by Jessica Lucas (She’s the Man), and Marlena, played by Lizzy Caplan (Mean Girls), also factor into the story.
This unknown, low-cost cast contribute well while sustaining a low budget, reportedly around 30 million dollars, which has already been recouped thanks to a 46 million dollar plus U.S. opening last weekend. Cloverfield represents strong filmmaking and subtle storytelling amid epic circumstances. The absence of music might hurt most films, but not this one. Recommended and rated PG-13 for violence, intense terror, and disturbing images. Be sure to watch carefully, especially at the ending scene on the right. Can’t wait for the special features on the DVD!