“It’s alive. It’s eating people.”
Rated PG-13. In Theaters. Directed by Matt Reeves, Written by Drew Goddard, Produced by J.J. Abrams. Starring Michael Stahl-David, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Lizzy Caplan, Mike Vogel & Odette Yustman.
I can’t remember a monster movie that I actually liked — Godzilla was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, King Kong looked ridiculous and anything made before about 10 years ago is painfully outdated. Cloverfield, however, takes the genre and updates it for the Internet era with successful results. It borrows from the Blair Witch playbook in that it presents the film as simply unedited footage from a tape found in Central Park, complete with choppy editing (when the camera is turned on/off), amateur camera work, and mediocre image quality. It was also heavily hyped online with a lot of Web tie-ins that are not necessary to look through to enjoy the movie.
The tape starts out innocently enough, with Rob (Michael-Stahl David) the morning after having spent the night with Beth (Odetta Yustman), plotting a trip to Coney Island. The tape then abruptly cuts to a month later (this is explained pretty quickly) to a going away party for Rob thrown by his best friend (T.J. Miller), his brother (Mike Vogel), and his brother’s girlfriend (Jessica Lucas) in anticipation of his new job in Japan. It’s no spoiler to say that soon thereafter, a monster shows up and all hell breaks loose.
The most amazing part of this movie is the sensation that you’re actually there and that New York is actually getting fucked up — the special effects are outstanding and the CGI is seamless. I have no idea how they did it, and that’s part of what makes the movie work. It’s not often you walk out of a movie wondering how they made it. Director Matt Reeves succeeds in making it feel like footage shot by random people and it takes a certain skill to be able to replicate that feeling. It’s also surprisingly well-acted and there are some nice touches thrown in by writer Drew Goddard (who also writes for Lost) which separate Cloverfield from just being a mindless action movie.
However, despite the feeling of being immersed in the story, it never gets too suspenseful, and there’s only one scene which was truly frightening. It’s not as intense as you may expect a monster movie to be, and part of that is how it’s presented — you know the camera isn’t going to get destroyed until perhaps at the end. Another drawback is how annoying the narrator/cameraman is at times. I understand that the filmmakers probably felt the story needed some levity and did so in the form of Miller, the bumbling comic relief, but it’s overbearing and takes away from the movie. It’s not nearly as thrilling or scary when the guy behind the camera isn’t thrilled or scared for much of it.
And of course, there’s the monster — the less I say about it the better, other than it’s pretty cool and pretty scary looking. You get glimpses of it early and by the end you get the whole picture — don’t ruin the surprise and look it up online, trust me.
Because we’re seeing the story from the viewpoint of the protagonists, we don’t get too many answers — the movie is more concerned with the characters and action than the plot. But as is befitting a new-media sensation, all the answers not touched upon in the movie can be found online (check the IMDB listing’s FAQ). And for anyone who watches Lost, watch out for an appearance of the Dharma Initiative logo at the beginning.
There is going to be an inevitable wave of Cloverfield knock-offs (and probably multiple sequels) and it feels like the type of movie that’s easily replicable. Get a monster, get some attractive leads (and Cloverfield has two of the hottest actresses I’ve seen in awhile in Lucas and Yustman), slap together a story and hype it on the Internet. But there’s a certain intelligence present in Cloverfield — perhaps it’s the J.J. Abrams influence, he’s becoming a master at infusing normally mindless genres with depth — that makes the movie succeed.