From producer J. J. Abrams, creator of TV series such as "Felicity," "Alias," and the perplexing hit "Lost" comes "Cloverfield," a super-secretive thrill ride with enough turbulence to leave you in a weeklong daze. Abrams and writer Drew Goddard ("Lost") have taken the b-grade monster movie genre and given it new life.

The premise is simple yet so completely haunting and wondrous. Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David) is a young professional living in Manhattan. His brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and friends throw a surprise party for Rob as he prepares to take a new job in Japan. As you are probably aware, the film is shot through the perspective of a hand-held camera - Rob's actually, that is being used to film send-offs and goodbyes at Rob's party.

The cameraman is Rob's best friend Hud (T.J. Miller), the comedian of the group who may or may not have a crush on fellow partygoer Marlena (Lizzy Caplan of "Mean Girls"). It's during this part of the film that we learn of Rob's relationship with Beth (Odette Yustman) - which has grown incredibly complicated in the past days before the party.

What separates "Cloverfield" from other ‘monster movies' is the fact that we truly feel for the characters. We grow to know them, learn how they'll react to situations - and we worry for them. We truly worry about their survival. While partying at Rob's fancy apartment, a tremor rumbles through the building causing power outages and a small dose of panic.

What was thought to be an earthquake is followed with news reports of a tanker capsizing in the harbor. Nobody is for sure if the two events are linked - that is, until there is a huge explosion in midtown that sends our characters running for their lives.

"Is it another terrorist attack?" one of them asks. Smoke floods the streets of New York as debris falls down around bystanders. Our characters run out into the street only to witness the horrific site of the Statue of Liberty's head being bowled down an intersection, coming to a screeching halt at their feet.

Mass hysteria erupts and suddenly we see glimpses of the perpetrator. A large creature, its origins unknown, has attacked the city. Suddenly things take a very dark and somber tone as Rob and his friends attempt to escape the city.

"I saw it! It's alive! It's huge!"

One key moment comes into focus when a squad of military troops has separated Hud, the loveable cameraman, from the rest of the group. Tanks barrel down the streets of Manhattan and Hud is caught in the crossfire. Bullets and missiles are whizzing through the air as the frightening roar of the creature reverberates off skyscrapers.

Rob gets a call from Beth, the person he loves most in this world. She was at her apartment building when it hit, and it seems like she's hurt and can't get out. This of course sends Rob into full hero mode as he attempts to make his way across the city to save her.

This relationship doesn't feel false or forced. Truthfully, "Cloverfield" is a movie about the human experience - the fact that a giant monster is attacking is just a horrible coincidence. We understand his need to find Beth, and the story is validated in why the group has avoided the mass evacuations happening around them.

While the idea of an enormous creature dismantling New York like a city made of Lego blocks may seem absurd, the filmmakers build upon real-life horrors that fully capture the sentiment of 9/11. With these chaotic images, belief and rationality are suspended completely. Never have I been more completely absorbed by a movie, which many have been quick to call the lovechild of "The Blair Witch Project" and 1998's atrocious "Godzilla."

"Cloverfield" reminds me of the haunted house attractions I would go to as a kid. You essentially get strapped into a rickety old metal cart with a fraying seatbelt that has you feeling less than safe and sound. It's pitch black and all you can hear are the horrible moans of whatever is lingering in the dark. Cold mist splashes your face, and suddenly the ride picks up speed. It's now you realize you have no control over your fate - you're riding the rails at breakneck speed, and all you can do is hold on.

Quite frankly, "Cloverfield" is a triumph for fans of the monster genre. The filmmakers create a claustrophobic sense of entrapment that turns the sprawling cityscape of Manhattan into a deadly maze where there is literally no escape. It isn't just a popcorn flick, it's a comprehensive mind-blowing experience.

And for people worried about the film not living up to the hype generated by viral marketing and clever ad campaigns, think again. You will not be disappointed. "Cloverfield" delivers.
Reviewed by: adam
18 Comment(s)
Red said...
Woah, I'm surprised to read "we truly feel for the characters. We grow to know them".

I felt the character was paper-thin, and on a few occasions I was actually rooting for the monster to despatch them already. The only good scene is when they're in the subway and Rob's mother calls to make sure they're okay and he has to tell her his brother died. So that's what... two minutes out of 90?

This film was a waste of my time. First Knocked up, now this... I really must stop paying attention to Asterisk's brother's idea of a great film...
Adam said...
Yet further proof that I will never understand Red and Asterisk haha.
Shea said...
this was one of my favorite theater experiences of recent times. El Orfanato is right there with it.

I loved the movie. I loved the characters and i was definitely surprised at how much depth they gave us from a hand held perspective.

Love the movie. A great step with the Blair technique.

Amazing creature design too.
Andy said...
I don't think I cared about the characters quite as much as Adam, but I did really enjoy Cloverfield. The monster was incredible. I can't believe they show one of the best shots of it in the dvd commercials...LAME.
Adam said...
Yeah, it was just such a breath of fresh air. A creature feature with an emotionl anchor. Reminded me of "Jaws" in a lot of ways, just because you were attached to the characters - Who didn't love Hud as he was clumsily trying to hit on Marlena?

Small, subtle things that built the character of those involved - which is what I always look for.

I can' wait to rip into the DVD bonus features - be sure to pick it up at an FYE or Suncoast as they have the exclusive packaging.

Apparently our monster here was an infant, which is why it walked so weird etc, it was basically throwing a temper-tantrum. Can't wait to see Momma show up sometime...

And as for the DVD commercials, shame on the stupid people who didn't see this in the theater, haha.
Shea said...
I think was definitely a theater experience. I agree with red on the most emotional moment in the movie being the phone call with Mommy.

I dont think I cared too much when little brother died but I was definitely feeling it for Marlena.

I loved how they used they taped over footage of Coney Island to cut back and forth between.
Nick said...
I loved the movie, can't wait for the DVD. I agree about the emotional depth of the characters. Hud was the best, and you barely even saw him!
* (asterisk) ( said...

First up, Mr Frazier, Red and I do have differing opinions once in a while, y'know, and this is actually one of those occasions.

While I can see that it might be more affecting in a cinema (theater) setting, obviously the type of film it is means that it ultimately plays okay on TV. I actually found myself quite gripped by the action on a couple of occasions, though I did think the characterizations were thin.

My main gripe is that this feels like a big producer dipping his feet into digital filmmaking territory, unable to commit flat-out in the way that Fincher and Lynch have, and instead deciding to make the digital look part of the story (which is all well and good if you are working on with no budget, but this just feels like it's trying to dupe non-educated filmgoers into thinking this is a small sleeper picture).

But, that said, it would be churlish to let this cloud my overall judgment of the movie, which is largely positive. It's no Blair Witch Project, but it did more or less what I hoped it would, so I was pleasantly surprised.

One of my favourite parts, FWIW, was when Hud says he's got the monster on tape, so he rewinds to show everyone, but of course we don't see it. That was nice.
Adam said...
I would agree with * that the rewind scene is one of my favorite parts. As for trying to dupe audiences, I don't really think that's the case. The budget for the film was $30 million, which is considered low budget for a film of its kind these days. I mean, "Transformers" had a $150 million budget and THAT was cheap compared to Spider-Man 3 and Pirates 3 etc.

I think in the case of the creature itself, there really wasn't a choice between it being practical or digital. It's just too big, they could have done a foot here or an arm there, but it ultimately would've felt more staged than the natural flow of the creature as one giant beast.

Anyway, It's 9:46 am here and I'm eating yogurt and a granola bar while drinking some green tea. WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ME?

Paul said...
I will agree that this was a great experience in the theater, everything I was hoping for. The camera and style of filming did a great job of adding suspense and the lack of omnicient pov.

I do agree with some of the comments about the characters though. They did a fine job of moving the story along, but personally I didn't care too much for any of them. Guess I couldn't feel the emotion...even during the call to mom, it seemed to acted and less real.

Loved the creature. Cool and new, very alien. Overall, an excellent movie, think I enjoyed the Mist more though.
Adam said...
The creature did feel a lot like something from the Stephen King universe, and definitely like something from "The Mist."
Adam said...
I think as far as monster movies go, "Cloverfield" has amazing character development. I mean, sure it's nothing stellar in the world of drama, but I think they did an amazing job with what they had - the handheld style of shooting and the fact that a giant monster was attacking the city.

I need to see "Blair Witch Project" again, I haven't seen it since it came out.
* (asterisk) said...
Sure, $30m is no money, but a committed filmmaker could have created as good a movie with less money, without feeling the need to show aerial shots of a monster, however cool or not it might be.

I saw a longer cut of Blair Witch on pirate tape before it was released in the UK, then I watched it at the cinema, then I bought the DVD and have watched it two or three more times. One of my favourite films in the past 15 years.
Adam said...
I mean, I think the aerial shots are awesome and it's not like they're just stuck in there out of context - they are in a helicopter after all.
JenL said...
I did not see this in the theater, and I know I'm way late to this party...

Brief comparison of The Mist and Cloverfield:

Alien CGI - both were awesome. I gravitate toward Cloverfield now simply because someone mentioned he was a baby (maybe that's because I've lived with so many toddler monsters...who knows?) Plus we got to see more of him.

Character development - The Mist develops the characters for you. Cloverfield relies a lot on inference and audience experience. Maybe if you know or ARE a Hud, or a Rob, or a Beth...then you get more out of it?

Scare Factor - Cloverfield...only because of the handy-cam technique (we didn't see anything fully, really which leaves a lot to my twisted imagination). And the fact that it happens in Manhattan. That first explosion, the way it was filmed etc...VERY reminiscent of watching the second tower get hit, ya know? Again, relying on audience to complete the experience.

The Ending: Cloverfield. After all of that, I'm glad they gave me the I love you moment. The Mist totally gutted me at the end and I will forever hate that movie for that reason.

I had to spend an hour or so pouring over the DVD extras in order to get my jaw unclenched...
Paul said...
I'd agree almost completely Jen. I liked the character development much more in the Mist, I think this one relied to heavily on the style of filming and the characters didn't add too much.

Personally I thought the Mist had a better time scaring me. I think mainly because of the suspense coming from so many angles. The psychotic cult leader, the various opposing leaders, and of course the unseen and uncounted terrors in the Mist. Something about not seeing them is much scarier to me.

In hindsight, I'd give Cloverfield 4/5. I think a lot of hype and a style we haven't seen in a while generated a lot of "wow-ed" viewers. Great movie for sure, but for me the Mist is much more lasting.

...great monster though
This movie was just as enthralling as Blair Witch. Which is to say it sucked, majorly.

The cameraman is your typical guy that nobody likes but everyone puts up with.

I didn't feel anything for the characters as they were attacked, and there was so much distraction when Marlena died that I was almost relieved that there was one last person for the wayward camera man to worry about. I was too distracted by the constant annoying voice over of the camera man and the incoherent video imagery. And in the moment when you think its over you have to suffer thru another 15 minutes.

On another note my wife wasn't able to watch it without getting motions sick. To quote her "This is why you need a tripod".

The hype for this movie was great, and really made me want to see it, but the execution was so poor it was all I could do to just not turn it off, and burn the dvd like the steaming pile of refuse that it is, but then my friend would be upset and I'd have to actually spend money for another copy.

I think that from now on I'll be staying away from these "gritty, handy cam" style movies, that only get run due to the popularity of the individuals who produced/directed/who made "insert film name here"/that brought you "insert film name here". These movies can't stand on their own two feet let alone on the backs of the giants who made them. The only thing that disturbs me more is that they are looking at making a sequel.

Sadly because I'm a gluten for punishment and I like to have closure in my life I will more than likely return to write a bad review about the sequel too, after I watch it and once more am not brought any closer to the answers my mind seeks.
Adam said...
Coincidently, the sequel has absolutely nothing to do with the events of the first film