While “Cloverfield’s” approach to monster movies is indeed unique – it’s “Godzilla” from the point of view of the guy on the street who points and yells, “Oh nooooooooo!” – the truth is that there isn’t a single technique employed here that you haven’t seen before. That, however, does not stop “Cloverfield” from delivering some legitimate thrills and downright creepy moments. The “Blair Witch Project”-style camerawork is effective in terms of revealing as little or as much as the movie wants you to see, but it’s also nauseating, like Paul Greengrass hopped up on Red Bull and NoDoz.
The movie opens with a title card informing us that the following video is evidence into a government case called Cloverfield, shot in the area “formerly known as Central Park.” The video begins with a clip of Rob (Michael Stahl-David) and Beth (Odette Yustman) planning a trip to Coney Island. The tape then jumps six weeks in time to Rob’s brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas) hastily putting together a going –away party for Rob, who has taken a job in Japan. Jason cons best friend Hud (T.J. Platt) to handle video duties during the party, which Hud uses as a chance to talk to longtime crush Marlena (Lizzy Caplan). As Rob, Jason and Hud are having some deep boy talk on the stairwell the entire apartment building shakes with earthquake velocity. They hit the roof to investigate, and see complete chaos taking place in downtown Manhattan. When they get down to the street, the chaos is at their front door, in the form of a giant monster of undeterminable size and origin. And it’s just left the head of the Statue of Liberty in the street as a greeting card.
The most unsettling part of “Cloverfield” is that no one in the movie knows more about what is going on than anyone else, including the military personnel. There is no long-winded story about the monster being some military experiment gone horribly awry; they’re just as much in the dark as the rest of us, and that lack of information gives the action an extra level of tension, yet is strangely comforting. It also makes the movie’s money shots during the climax even sweeter, because you still don’t know what kind of monster the characters are up against.
The catch to doing a movie like this is that there are times when it’s damned for its realism, and there are times when it’s damned for not being realistic enough. The dialogue gets grating in a hurry with its innumerable exclamations of “Oh my God” and shouts of “Rob! Rob!,” even though any actual tape of the events here would sound almost exactly like that. On the flip side, when director Matt Reeves grants the audience a pardon and lets up on the queasy-cam, it yields some improbable moments of camera dexterity, especially when T.J. jumps from one building to the roof of another. Lastly, does anyone ever survive a helicopter crash? Just curious.
“Cloverfield” may have monster movie origins, but the movie is really the ripple effect of “gimmick” movies like “Memento.” It may seem clever now, but this is not a movie for the ages. It is worth seeing once, but that one viewing will be plenty(3 / 5)