Cloverfield: Movie, DVD, Blu-ray Review (2008)

10/31/2009 Posted by Admin

Movie, DVD, Blu-ray Review


Directed by Matt Reeves, written by Drew Goddard, 84 minutes, rated PG-13.

Long before the Statue of Liberty’s head is ripped off its neck and hurled down the streets of lower Manhattan, where it lands with a thud in the new Matt Reeves movie, "Cloverfield," you know you’re in for something you’re either going to love or loathe.

For the most part, the deciding factor will come down to the way the movie is filmed.

Much like its technical inspiration "The Blair Witch Project," the film’s conceit is that you witness its story through a handheld video camera — and not one armed with a steadying device. This frenetic, jittery movie is shot by characters running for their lives from a towering monster destroying Manhattan as if it were a house of cards.

For those who can stomach the crazed rush of jerky madness that ensues, they might find that the technique amplifies the action with a sense of urgency — it does, after all, put you in the middle of the chaos in ways that a third-person perspective could not. But for those who find the idea of watching a movie that seems as if it were filmed from the business end of a jackhammer, well, motion sickness and headaches might take hold.

From Drew Goddard’s script, "Cloverfield" begins with a surprise going-away party thrown for popular Rob (Michael Stahl-David), who has just been named vice president for an unnamed company in Japan (birthplace of Godzilla, natch), to which he’s about to relocate.

Rob’s best friend, Hud (T.J. Miller), has been charged by Rob’s brother, Jason (Mike Vogel), to film the farewell testimonials. With video camera in hand, Hud bumbles around the party garnering those testimonials — all while trying to make nice with grim Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), who dislikes him. Meanwhile, Rob arrives to cheers.

His elation doesn’t last long. First, his estranged girlfriend Beth (Odette Yustman) shows up with a new beau on her arm, and then, after she argues with Rob and leaves in a huff, all hell breaks loose when an explosion rocks Manhattan.

To the rooftop the partygoers flee, where they watch skyscrapers collapse in ways that leave many wondering aloud whether "it’s the terrorists." Soon enough, on streets choked with enough soot and debris to recall images of 9-11, which the movie uses to bolster its horror, they find out exactly what they’re up against — a beast so beautifully realized by the film’s superb special effects, "Cloverfield" starts to amp up the heat with mounting, claustrophobic tension. One scene that involves hundreds of people caught on the Brooklyn Bridge, for instance, is the movie at its harrowing best.

At its scripted worst, the film’s shaky premise can steal you out of the moment: As selfish as the main characters come off at the start (the exception is Hud), we’re meant to believe they nevertheless will journey into the heart of monster madness and risk their lives when Rob receives a distressing phone call from Beth, who needs their help and whom he is determined to save. Given all that they endure trying to reach her, it’s a stretch to believe they wouldn’t turn back midway through, if only to save themselves, but since the whole movie is a stretch anyway, it’s best not to look for logic and just go with it.

Since "Cloverfield" offers scenes of gripping terror — and a few moments of genuine surprise — many will be happy they do so.

Grade: B

View the trailer here:

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