Directed by Matt Reeves. Starring Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman, Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller. (2008, PG-13, 85 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 18, 2008
Although the online community has been positively abuzz regarding Cloverfield since a mysterious teaser trailer ran before screenings of Transformers this past summer, no one, not even the intrepid folks at cloverfieldclues.blogspot.com, really knew much at all about the plot of this ultrasecret project from Lost creator J.J. Abrams and writer/director Reeves. I'm not going to spoil that mystery either, but I will say this: Cloverfield is the most intense and original creature feature I've seen in my adult moviegoing life, and that's coming from a guy who knows his Gojira from his Gamera and his Harryhausen from his Honda. Cloverfield isn't a horror film – it's a pure-blood, grade A, exultantly exhilarating monster movie in the grand tradition of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, It Came From Beneath the Sea, and, to a lesser extent, Merian C. Cooper's King Kong. What makes Cloverfield so memorable and such a genuinely riveting filmgoing experience has less to do with the creature itself, whatever it is, and everything to do with Reeves' direction and a whip-smart, stylistically invisible screenplay that dispenses entirely with any and all genre rules and, brilliantly, views the catastrophic, literally earthshaking events through the lens of one character's digital video camera, complete with rough, nerve-jangling, in-camera edits and an "official" Department of Defense Eyes Only time stamp. It's Blair Witch meets Godzilla, with the audience allowed only as much information about what, exactly, is happening as the characters have themselves, and it works fantastically well. And that's key to the film's second stroke of genius: its nearly subconscious evocation of our current paranoid, terror-phobic times. The pall of post-9/11 dread hangs over Cloverfield in a very emotionally tangible way, although it should be noted that Reeves and Abrams never directly refer to it (although they do, in a nice nod to genre enthusiasts, reference the one-sheet poster for John Carpenter's Escape From New York). Sitting in the theatre, watching all hell break spectacularly loose in Lower Manhattan, again, you can't help but wish that giant behemoths and warring Gargantuas were all that our postatomic citizenry had to worry about. No such luck, and no giant flying turtle to save us, either.