Genre: Sci-Fi Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 25 min.
Release Date: January 18th, 2008 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Matt Reeves Actors: Michael Stahl-David, Odette Yustman, Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Mike Vogel, Liza Lapira, Lili Mirojnick
n exercise in panic, trepidation, and confusion all trampled into one, Matt Reeves’ “Cloverfield” is also a prime example of why first-person narratives through the use of a handheld camera (found-footage) often result in calculably disappointing conclusions. But a squabble about plot points aside, the film is an electrifying ride, albeit a short-lived one, full of tension, gore, and special effects. If the abrupt cuts and hasty zooms don’t induce a headache, they’ll certainly sharpen viewer senses in this frighteningly authentic recreation of surviving a monster attack in New York (a scenario often visited in cinema). It is, quite likely, as close to the real thing as imaginable.
A tape is recovered from the disaster of the “Cloverfield” event, in which a group of partiers celebrate the last night Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David) is in town, before he leaves for Japan. He struggles over a sour relationship with hopeful girlfriend Elizabeth McIntyre (Odette Yustman), while best friend Hud (T.J. Miller) videotapes all of the events of the celebration. As the group tries to console the frustrated Rob, a nearby explosion flings the revelers into a swivet – and before long, the streets below their Manhattan suite are littered with debris and the demolished, decapitated head of the Statue of Liberty. As the army moves in to evacuate the terrified civilians, Rob decides that he must journey deeper into the warzone to help Beth, who is trapped in a toppled apartment building. Hud, Lily (Jessica Lucas), and Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) accompany him, unwittingly uncovering the shocking horrors that launched the massive destruction of the once great city.
“Cloverfield” works on many levels, but most important is its mastery in creating atmosphere. Thanks to excellent special effects, brilliant sets, and that ever-so-shaky camera, the audience will feel as if they’re escaping the monstrous threat right alongside the film’s characters. Clever cuts and segues keep the pacing tight as the foreboding sense of an inescapable fate presides over the aggravating affair. Hysterical crowds, ruined streets, and an insufficient military presence help maintain the realism of a catastrophic attack on a populated city (even though the culprit is entirely phony). In fact, if it weren’t for the gigantic creature careening through the scenery, “Cloverfield” might not have betrayed its science-fiction origins at all, favoring instead the much more relatable fear of the unknown.
Predictably, the monster itself is one of “Cloverfield’s” only weaknesses. From afar and during brief glimpses before it disappears behind skyscrapers, the hobbling beast provides adequate awe, but upon closer inspection (especially near the climax) the design appears too awkward, revealing a forced, inconvenient alien structuring. Moving with the clumsy ambulation of a grounded vampire bat, the monster also conjures the notion of a giant, hairless space monkey; however, much of those details are attributed to its infantile state and the inherent lack of dexterity, which can only be realized through behind-the-scenes discussions with creature designer Neville Page. Strange, red, pulsing orbs atop its head also don’t match – and certainly frustrate a countenance of terror. Sometimes, less truly is more.
– The Massie Twins