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Cloverfield (2008)

  • Review: ** ½ (out of ****)
  • Starring: Lizzy Caplan, Jesscia Lucas, T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman
  • Director: Matt Reeves
  • Screenplay: Drew Goddard
  • Length: 85 min.
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, terror and disturbing images.

Blending horror film and monster movie into one bubbling concoction, producer J.J. Abrams delivers an uneven picture in Cloverfield.

Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David), who has just been hired as Vice President of a company in Japan, is celebrating with his brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and his friend Hud (T.J. Miller), along with several of his close and not-so-close friends, including his friend-turned-lover Beth (Odette Yustman), Jason's girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas) and Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), whose only met him a handful of times.

When a tremor seizes the building and disturbs the festivities, they discover there's something attacking the city and it's not friendly. In an attempt to rescue Beth before they are evacuated, Rob takes his friends on a trek into the heart of the city where a monster seems to be reeking havoc.

There isn't much else to the plot. For the entire 85 minutes, the film merely follows these five people through the streets and subways of New York as they try to rescue Beth from a fate of which none of them are certain. While there's a touch of thriller to the festivities, it is largely a monster movie-horror film. The film employs the hand-held technique that made The Blair Witch Project a huge success, but does very little to build a similar amount of suspense, relying mostly on strange noises in the darkness and the slow attrition of deaths that eventually dwindle their numbers.

Featuring a slew of 20-something actors whose screen credits are minimal and relatively inconsequential, Matt Reeves, who also has a limited resume himself, directs a film that owes much of the film's success to H.P. Lovecraft and Ishiro Honda (Gojira) as it does to the modern audience's desire for thrills. Lovecraft's world-eating tales of monsters in the Cthulhu mythos have long been fodder for the strange imaginations of many directors and there are some elements to his world in the Japanese classic Gojira (Godzilla). However, while the monster certainly looks the part, it is more akin to Godzilla and its successors than any of the twisted explanations and cultist activity in Lovecraft's works.

The viral Internet promotion for the film was certainly more lively and interesting than the final product. And while there is some solid interplay between characters and their motivations are clear and generally understandable, there is something unnecessarily unrealistic in Cloverfield that destroys any gritty realism created by use of hand-held camera, further compounded by leaps of logic in how much film they actually have and have skipped. After all, if this were a government-seized tape, there is no reason for them to have edited any portion of it even to cut out scenes with a lack of action for there are plenty such scenes remaining.

I will give them credit for having several segments where old footage on the tape peeks through as the camcorder is stopped and restarted. It adds a bit of backstory to the proceedings that we wouldn't have otherwise gotten, allowing the audience to better understand the connection between Rob and Beth.

Cloverfield is sure to spawn lookalikes and some might even say that it started a trend, but with a far superior film, The Blair Witch Project, having started the genre style nine years prior, I would be hard-pressed to suggest Cloverfield is any bit influential except in the fact that it's the first real effort to further develop the genre since that 1999 docu-horror classic.