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USA 2007
Directed by
Matt Reeves
84 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bruce Paterson
3 stars


Synopsis: Five young New Yorkers throw their friend a going-away party the night that a monster the size of a skyscraper descends upon the city. Told from the point of view of their video camera, the film is a document of their attempt to survive the most surreal, horrifying event of their lives.

“It’s either going to be really good, or really disappointing. I don’t think that there’s much chance of grey area.” - Actress Lizzy Caplan, talking to Blackbook Mag

Cloverfield has been filmed in great secrecy, generating huge hype among those organized enough to follow a film’s progress for a year or more before it hits the screen. It was the kind of secrecy where actors auditioned with fake scripts, were only given pages with their dialog while shooting, and so on. With the world premiere in Australia the day before general release, the big question on the web remained: what kind of monster has Lost producer, J. J. Abrams, created in his effort to make a truly American monster movie, rather than another Godzilla derivative?

The attempt to answer this question ends up focusing on a group of five young survivors rather than the monster. The central themes are the psychological impacts of a devastated New York from eye-witness perspective, with enveloping clouds of dust and debris powerfully reminiscent of the 9/11 attack, the seeming ascendancy yet real vulnerability of youth (this is no film for old men, or old women for that matter) and the personal experience of the survivor.

The film is contextualized with an opening title describing it as evidence found at the scene of the incident. From that point, it is presented as the entire contents of a 90 minute digital video tape. The presentation of the story in this format is spectacularly successful with tape pauses and camera glitches serving as the only apparent editing technique. There is enough shaky camera work and skewing down to the floor or up to the sky to establish a strong sense of credibility (hopefully you’re sitting far back enough in the theatre to avoid motion sickness), the familiar-looking amateurism overcoming the occasionally unlikely shots that convey the bigger picture.

For reasons that become clear, the recording is almost entirely of the night that begins as a going-away party for Rob, but occasionally cuts back to fragments of the previous recording of a month earlier, showing the beginning of Rob’s ill-fated love affair with Beth. Rob’s brother, Jason, and partner, Lilly, friend, Marlena, and best friend, Hud (the principal camera man), complete the ensemble.

A strong appeal of these characters is that you are not distracted by celebrity actor faces. There are some great performances and interesting characterizations. It is the character seen the least, Hud (comedian, T. J. Miller) behind the camera, that impresses the most. As the somewhat simple friend of Rob, his disembodied voice is both an effective and, at times, funny narrator of events and indicator of the mounting panic as loyalty to Rob drives the group closer to a date with the monster. Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) is both of enigmatic interest and unusual beauty. Rob (Michael Stahl-David) is an increasingly troubled character, as an obsession with redeeming his losses leads his friends further into danger. A, perhaps intentionally ironic, aspect undermining these sacrifices is that the object of rescue (Beth) appears to be a somewhat vacuous waif that I, at least, wouldn’t have minded being a monster-snack.

Cloverfield is a successful experiment in style but not necessarily a successful story for those who want dramatic closure. More a survival than a monster movie, you’ll find the final moneyshot of the monster either really good or really disappointing – there’s not much chance of grey area. And overall, as long as you fit the target audience, there’s not much grey matter required to enjoy it.




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