Review: Cloverfield

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Reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project (1999), this cleverly-conceived scream fest was shot entirely with a shaky hand-held camera being operated by one of the film’s central characters.

[Review: Film]




Ordinarily, the most memorable horror flicks arrive in theaters either around Halloween or during the summer blockbuster season, so excuse me for having low expectations of Cloverfield.


But for some reason Paramount has ignored industry convention by releasing an exceptional example of the genre during January, a month used by most studios to bury their worst movies.


Reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project (1999), this cleverly-conceived scream fest was shot entirely with a shaky hand-held camera being operated by one of the film’s central characters. A similarly limited-perspective proved compelling in Blair, which had been billed as based on a videotape supposedly found at the site of a slaughter.


But by the time that “documentary” had belatedly been exposed as a fraud, the hoax had already benefited immeasurably from the hype of intense, internet-driven word-of-mouth.


While Cloverfield, by contrast, is clearly fictional, it has relied on a viral marketing campaign deliberately designed to generate Blair-like cyber-buzz, in this case, heightening audience anticipation by spoon-feeding only selected elements of the hair-raising adventure. Thus, its ads leave much to the imagination, such as exactly what the monster looks like, a manipulative device likely to pique considerable curiosity.


Cloverfield starts with a cryptic statement that the top-secret tape you are about to watch is the property of the Department of the Defense. However, the initial half-hour looks more like a soap opera than a spine-tingling thriller. The fun starts on May 22nd, in Jason Hawkins’ (Mike Vogel) spacious Manhattan apartment with a bird’s eye view of the New York City skyline. With the help of his girlfriend, Lily (Jessica Lucas) Jason is greeting the fifty or so guests arriving for the surprise going away party he’s throwing for his brother, Rob (Michael Stahl-David) who’ll soon be leaving for Japan.


Jason directs their buddy, Hud (T.J. Miller), to film the festivities, and to record individual farewells as a keepsake. The plot thickens as Hud makes his way around the soiree, when we learn that Beth (Odette Yustman) is angry at Rob. Seems that the two recently slept together for the first time, but then he never called her again. So, she has shown up still miffed and hoping to make him jealous of her handsome date, Travis (Ben Feldman).


Comic relief comes courtesy of chubby Hud, who has a thing for Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), an elusive cutie pie who won’t give him the time of day. Yet, he keeps flirting, pointing the lens in her direction every chance he gets. Then, just when you’ve forgotten that this is supposed to be a horror movie, the building shakes and the power goes out.


The partygoers rush to the window to witness chaos and devastation unfolding as far as the eyes, or should I say camcorder, can see: from flattened cars to flying projectiles to crumbling skyscrapers to fleeing pedestrians unleashing bloodcurdling screams while looking over their shoulders. At this juncture, the movie morphs into a harrowing tale of survival featuring seasick cinematography, and it becomes pretty clear that some destructive unseen force has been released and is causing major mayhem.


Rob, Jason, Lily, Marlena and Hud descend to the street together where the Statue of Liberty’s decapitated head comes tumbling up the block at them. Hud keeps the camera rolling as they make a break for the Brooklyn Bridge when they get word that it’s safe on the other side of the East River.


But on the bridge, Rob’s cell phone rings. It’s Beth. She’s pinned and needs help. The group makes the fateful decision to go back to try to save her. And all that remains of that noble rescue effort is a chilling videotape, a spellbinding masterpiece also known as Cloverfield.


Excellent (4 stars). Rated PG-13 for violence, terror and disturbing images. Running time: 90 minutes. Studio: Paramount Pictures



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