The teaser trailer for Cloverfield, which debuted in front of this past summer’s Transformers – and sporting no title at that, is one of the only trailers I’ve ever seen where people were talking about it rather than the feature film on the way out of the theater. Thus began a viral marketing barrage of clues, dead-ends, and countless theories regarding the substance of the film. The movie has now arrived, and although it couldn’t possibly live up to the hype and hopes of fan boys worldwide, it is one hell of a ride.
The setup is simple. As the film opens a group of twenty-somethings are throwing a party for their friend, Rob (Stahl-David). He’s accepted a lucrative job in Japan and his buddies are giving him the proper send-off. We meet the principal players. There’s cameraman Hud (Miller), friends Marlena (Caplan) and Lily (Lucas), Rob’s brother Jason (Vogel), and pseudo-girlfriend Beth (Yustman). All seems well until just before 1:00 AM. The ground shakes, the lights flicker, and then – destruction. Some thing is attacking Manhattan and destroying everything in its path. Rob and his friends make their run for safety.
Cloverfield is a gimmick through and through, but it’s nearly impossible to not get hooked by the film’s exhaustive energy and creativity. There is not one wasted second in the lean 75-minute (sans credits) runtime. Those with sensitive stomachs for handheld camerawork had best take some Dramamine, but the effect is enthralling. The mass destruction is disturbing similar to the firsthand video accounts of 9/11, and one often wonders how director Matt Reeves and his staff pulled off some of the shots in the first place. The film does conveniently take place at night, thus making it easier to shield imperfections in the visual effects, but the illusion feels very real. Destruction has rarely been this in-your-face.
Most of the buildup surrounding Cloverfield has concerned the monster, and it delivers in terms of sheer scope. Rest assured, the viewer does get several good glimpses at it (the film teases for the first forty-five minutes by blocking the view with buildings and debris) and it is a very unique creation. A close encounter toward the finale is appropriately terrifying.
The cast, made up of relative unknowns, is effective in keeping the proceedings grounded. These people we all know and can identify with. When all is said and done, Cloverfield will be a novelty item in the long run. As much as I enjoyed the experience, it doesn’t have much repeat value. It’s an event movie in January, and when was the last time we had one of those? Experience it on the big screen with an enthusiastic crowd.
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Length: 90 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for violence, terror and disturbing images.
Theatrical Release: January 18, 2008
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Written by: Drew Goddard
Cast: Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman