The ads for this movie tell you all you need to know about it: it’s a major attack on New York City shot entirely from the point of view of one consumer digital video camera. I would never spoil the surprises that await you, wanting instead to urge you to go see it. However, if you had equilibrium issues watching The Blair Witch Project, be forewarned: several in our party were still feeling it the next day. If you can take it or are willing to endure the effects, it’s so worth it.
Cloverfield is a monster movie. It’s an old-school, Godzilla/King Kong type megafauna attack on an innocent metropolis filled with panicking citizenry. By dint of being shot on the home video camera, it’s extremely modern. Nothing feels choreographed or contrived – every shot of disaster is found footage or dumb luck, every glimpse of the threat is fleeting and often unsatisfying. This is, simply put, awesome. To make things better, the movie is intensely character-driven. We get to know our key characters well before the first ripple of fear ever crosses our threshold, but the brief 84 minute film never drags. We even get to know our cameraman, Hud (T.J. Miller, rescued from Carpoolers). The edits echo every home movie you have ever made, with blips from what you taped over, lack of concern for closure of dialogue or catching the beginnings of conversations. It made me downright nostalgic. The only music in the film is at the party and in the superbly histrionic closing credits score.
Think of a couple of movies in the last 30-odd years that scared you effectively. Blair Witch: the terror of the unknown, being totally lost and stranded, your visual range limited by the viewfinder. Alien/Aliens: a foe about whom we have very little information beyond its deadliness and the fact that we’re not much of an obstacle, plus our home turf being turned into their turf. Any decent adaptation of War of the Worlds and great zombie movies: the implacability of the enemy added to the blinding fever for escape. Every great scary movie: the primal effectiveness of being alone – or not – in the darkness. Cloverfield doesn’t feel derivative of these movies, it only reminds you of how sometimes the simplest things work best.
We have the human drama of Rob, Beth, Hud, Marlena (from Mean Girls; you’re welcome), Lily, and Jason carrying us through the all-encompassing chaos and destruction so we have a real, workable purpose beyond just survival, beyond just placing the camera to get a little more scary in there. What we see of the monster is secondary to all the more personal, up-close terrors our little band of erstwhile partiers encounter in their flight. Cloverfield achieves the perfect balance of hidden and revealed information which just serves to make it all scarier and more fun.
It’s the kind of movie that you want to see more of, but you would regret the making of a sequel, because it would ruin the perfect magic of the terror of the unknown. It has happened in the past (Aliens, 28 Weeks Later, um…) but not often enough to risk tarnishing this achievement. Go see it!
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 1/18/08
Time in minutes 84
Director Matt Reeves