Cloverfield lives up to the hype

Realistic thriller gives genre a human face

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Scene from Cloverfield

Directed by: Matt Reeves
Starring: Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Lizzy Caplan, T.J. Miller

3.5 stars

Since its first teaser trailers appeared back in June, the Internet has been abuzz about Cloverfield.

Everything from the story to the cast â€" and even the name of the project â€" had been kept strictly hush-hush leading up to the movie’s premiere. Now the secret’s out.

Set in Manhattan, Cloverfield begins at a party, where friends and family have come together to bid farewell to Rob Hawkins (Stahl-David) as he makes his way to a new job in Japan. Before the night is over, the city comes under siege by an enormous monster. The rest of the movie follows Rob and five others as they try to find each other and make their way to safety.

While most monster movies expect their protagonists to take on and eventually take out the big evil, Cloverfield is the story of average people trying to survive while the army dukes it out with an enormous God-knows-what.

By casting relatively unknown actors, director Matt Reeves ensures the story’s focus is on the human aspect. Rather than seeing another Tom Cruise vs. aliens à la War of the Worlds, you feel like you’re watching actual people respond to a monumental tragedy. Considering the film is set in Manhattan, the parallels between the monster’s initial attacks and the events of 9/11 are unmistakeable.

The film’s camerawork is what makes it especially effective. Like The Blair Witch Project, the movie is shot from the perspective of a single camcorder that Hawkin’s best friend Rud (Miller) had been using to record the party. While the jumpiness, odd angles and zooms take awhile to adjust to, the result is a more intensely personal connection with the characters and the terrors they are facing.

Unfortunately, the camera’s inseparability from the characters also lends itself to a frustrating ignorance of the whole monster situation. We only know what Rud knows and only see what he sees. While this does heighten the film’s suspense, it may prove too frustrating for some.

The monster itself, which is gradually revealed as the film goes on, is most terrifying because of its mystery. Without knowing what it is or what it can do (or for half the movie, even what it looks like), the possibilities for how it might kill you are endless.

Amongst all of the publicity and camera gimmicks, Cloverfield is a good movie, with plenty of action and an interesting story, all of which make it the first great blockbuster of 2008.

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