And so, after THAT trailer, and that whispery, understated stealth marketing campaign, Cloverfield, producer JJ (Lost) Abrams' monster movie, finally hits. And it's a little cracker. While its slightly gimmicky shaky-cam footage means it's not suitable for those who suffer motion sickness, the plot doesn't contain holes as much as subway tunnels — just how long does that bloody video camera battery last, JJ? — and the end is one survival too many, it's almost irrelevant because Cloverfield is stupidly exciting, a visceral experience that will leave you reeling.
As the trailer suggests, it's all based around a leaving party for Rob (Stahl-David) who's supposed to be off to Japan in the morning, leaving the woman of his dreams, Beth (Yustman), and brother Jason (Vogel) behind in New York. These best laid plans fall apart though thanks to the arrival of a mystery beast who's stomping Mahattan because, frankly, it can. What it is and why it's there is never answered and it matters not a jot: it's there, it's destroying everything and, just for good measure, it has these fast moving, spider-like parasites that are dropping off it and joining the violent mayhem.
Happily, this is one of those crowdpleasers where the trailer hasn't shown all the best bits. Yes, you can certainly pick holes in the film and the structure — elaborate set-up of the supposed romance / a bunch of yuppies we really don't care that much about, followed by 60 minutes of insane action — is somewhat unbalanced. Let's face it, we don't really care if Rob and Beth are meant to be together. We just want to see them run around the city as some gargantuan lizard thing gets medieval on New York's ass. But those weaknesses only become apparent after you've left the cinema and had a good stiff drink to recover because once the gargantuan lizard thing turns up, you'll be dragged to the edge of your seat and held there for an hour of sweaty, heart-stopping pleasures. As a film, it's definitely wanting. But as a cinematic experience, Cloverfield is a pedal-to-the-metal, must-see stunner.
SECOND OPINION | Craig McPherson ★★★ Early in Cloverfield, long before the monster goes on its city destroying rampage, I found myself secretly hoping the beast would turn each and every one of the emo/MySpace cast into an hors d'œuvre, along with 90% of the seat-kicking, mobile-phone using mouthbreathers that made up the viewing audience. Never before have I so enjoyed a movie that contained so many ingredients that I absolutely loathed. Presented as found video footage retrieved from a camcorder in New York’s Central Park, Cloverfield “documents” a gigantic beast’s blitzkrieg rampage through the city from the point of view of one of the many thousands of fleeing masses typically shown as an afterthought in so many of the Godzilla movies. I absolutely detest the shaky, jerky, hand-held style of camera work Hollywood wonks seem so enamored with these days, and Cloverfield ramps this up by a factor of 100, complete with out of focus, poorly framed and lit shots — exactly the sort of stuff one would expect to see recorded by some non-professional average Joe.
The movie also suffers from a cast of characters that are as unlikeable as they are unbelieveably stupid in their motivations. Moments before the attack begins, as our intrepid cameraman sets out to document a farewell party for Rob (Michael Stahl-David), the movie’s male lead who is about to embark on a new job in Japan, we are clued into a soap-opera sub-plot involving his unrequited love for a hottie named Beth with whom he shared a lone night of hot steamy passion mere weeks earlier. The way I see it, this babe must have rocked Rob’s world far more than the number the monster pulls on NYC because throughout the film, Rob, accompanied by his faithful cameraman and two friends, set out to make their way across Manhattan, directly through the creature’s path, to locate Beth who called him on his mobile phone to tell him she was trapped in her apartment.
Along the way they are set upon by some nasty critters that have hitched a ride on the big brute, and which may or may not be offspring or parasites - nasty, spidery buggers who emit an unforgettably creepy sound. Insofar as the main creature itself goes, it can best be described as a variation on that multi-legged mantis-like beast featured in the arena sequence of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, and the decision to reveal it in glimpses, leading up to two final extended shots, is one of the best things about this movie. Throughout I was constantly leaning one way or another, craning my neck to look around buildings, or cursing the cameraman who elected to pan away to his buddies rather than at the creature ripping through the side of a skyscraper. As movies go, Cloverfield’s flaws are numerous (how is it that Rob’s phone battery could die out early in the night yet the camcorder seems to never run out of juice? And how long a tape does the damn thing hold?), however what it accurately captures is not so much the rampage of a mysterious beast, but the incessant self-absorption, to the exclusion even of an otherworldly onslaught, of the MySpace crowd.
• Official Site
• Cloverfield at IMDb