January 18, 2008


This party is soooo boring...when is the monster getting here?

Grade: B +
Starring: Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, T.J. Miller, Jessica Lucas, Lizzy Caplan, and Odette Yustman
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hour, 24 minutes

Cloverfield has been conveniently described as Godzilla meets The Blair Witch Project, a description employed with both delirium and derision depending on who is making the comparison. Put more simply, along with The Host, producer J.J. Abrams’ modern-day disaster flick is the most gripping, angst-ridden monster movie of the last quarter-century.

The faux-verite film opens with young New Yorkers throwing a going-away party for one of their own, all of them preoccupied with the relatively benign intrigues of budding adulthood. However, their micro-problems are abruptly eclipsed by the surreal, apocalyptic catastrophe of a colossal creature (resembling something that wandered off the set of The Mist) laying waste to The Big Apple. As they watch the Brooklyn Bridge collapse and the Statue of Liberty beheaded, a small band of friends venture deeper into the maelstrom on a treacherous rescue mission through the wasteland of midtown Manhattan.

Those prone to disparage director Matt Reeves’ hand-held video-cam point of view as pure gimmick miss the point that, like Blair Witch Project, the raw, often disorienting tableau – together with patent 9/11 visual cues – gives the film its visceral impact. In a world of YouTube and camera-phones, Cloverfield reminds us that all our technological ingenuity remains a feeble epoxy for a fragile society sometimes preyed upon by maundering monsters, whether they be terrorists flying airplanes into buildings or giant demon beasts.

Screenwriter Drew Goddard deftly weaves together enough character development to allow the emotional tension – including brief respites of humor – to stand astride the pure carnage and bloodshed. His exploitation of the unknown is sublime, whether it is a relatively unfamiliar cast or the monster’s conspicuous lack of a backstory. There is even something sinister about the format of the film itself, posited as a replay of a video of the tragic events, salvaged from the rubble and now bearing the watermark of classified defense department property. Perhaps this indicates some cover-up, but more likely is the oblique suggestion of an opportunistic expansion of governmental and military authority in the aftermath of the attack. It is here that Cloverfield's captivating, chilling fiction bleeds through onto unfortunate reality.

Neil Morris

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