Next time you walk the streets of Manhattan, imagine that a massive monster is standing in front of you, destroying the city.
In J.J. Abrams’ Cloverfield, this fiction turns into reality.
Cloverfield opens with official-looking Defense Department lettering, telling the audience that it is seeing video footage recovered from the area formerly known as Central Park. As they show us the video, the first few minutes open with a young couple flirting and cavorting in a nicely appointed Upper West Side apartment. The footage, which they shot themselves, shows them horsing around and having a good time.
However, as the movie continues, we see that there is more on the tape. We discover more about the characters we saw in the earlier footage: Rob (Michael Stahl-David), whose friends are throwing a going-away party for him before he heads off to a job in Japan, and Beth (Odette Yustman), Rob’s love interest. We also meet Rob’s best friend, Hud (T.J. Miller), who is in charge of recording the partygoers’ farewells to Rob, although he’s continually distracted by puppy love for Marlena (Lizzy Caplan).
Their party is disrupted by a loud blast outside. Everyone runs up to the roof to see what is going on. The initial scenes of destruction are glimpsed at a distance. Then things heat up when the head of the Statue of Liberty rolls down the street and we see a huge monster knocking down skyscrapers.
The movie succeeds greatly in merging its camcorder style with the traditional demands of a big blockbuster. It doesn’t have the cartoonish cheesiness of the old Godzilla movies or the low-budget feel of the Blair Witch Project. It is more of a realistic portrayal of human suffering and dread by the people who have to deal with an evil monster over 30 stories tall.
We are in the trenches with these characters, instead of looking at them from a safe distance. Instead of feeling like a casual voyeur, we are in the action with the main characters. In the subway scene, Hud turns on the camera’s night vision, and we are engulfed in a sense of high-tension. The menace feels closer and more real than in most movies.
The major downfall of the movie is that, at times, it can be unbelievable. The monster and the special effects both look amazing and real. However, disbelief forms when every character agrees to come to the rescue of Beth. You cannot help but laugh at how unbelievable the scene is. All that could be heard in the crowded movie theater was a loud sigh of disbelief.
Some people might be angered by the fact that nothing concrete is revealed about the monster. Is it from outer space? From the depths of the ocean? Why did it decide to attack New York City? What is it really capable of doing? The action is confined to what is on the videotape. By doing that, Cloverfield creates a much more realistic portrayal of what a real life monster attack would look like.
We never get a completely clear shot of the creature, although there is a very nice close-up headshot late in the film. Films are more effective and scary when the monsters are shown infrequently and only in brief glimpses. It allows the viewer to create his or her own image of the monster and that can be much scarier.
However, I have to offer a warning to viewers who are planning to watch the movie on the big screen at the Bart Luedeke Center Theater. Every single movie chain was told that, while watching the film, people may experience motion sickness. During the movie numerous people ran out of the theater to the closest bathroom to throw up.
However, don’t let the motion sickness scare you from seeing the movie. Cloverfield is an action-packed film that takes a new twist on the monster genre. Ultimately, the movie works well because it employs special effects without ever making us question what we are seeing.