By Vic Holtreman
Short version: Yes, it lives up to the hype - Cloverfield is a blast.
Bigger than the speculation about what the monster in the movie would look like, the hunting for clues on viral websites, what "Slusho" has to do with the movie - has been the question: After all the hype, will it be a great movie or a huge letdown?
Well I'm sorry to disappoint all the naysayers, but Cloverfield rocked.
Will it win an Oscar or Golden Globe? Heck no. Was it fun and exciting to sit through? Hell yes. This is what the ridiculously weak American version of Godzilla that came out a few years ago should have been.
The following review will be free of any major spoilers - to the point where I won't even say whether the images that have been making the rounds lately are accurate portrayals of the monster or not. :-)
Cloverfield opens with a color bar pattern on the screen (which did elicit some unintentional laughs from the audience), but after a few seconds cuts to a very official and government-looking title stating:
"Multiple sightings of case designate 'Cloverfield' camera retrieved at incident site U.S. 447 previously known as "Central Park"
Yes, this was shown in the trailer, but as the movie is just starting it impresses upon you that this is not going to end well.
When it cuts from there to a hand held digital camera's eye view of the interior of a very nice high rise apartment in New York City, it's quite surprising (and I thought, did not make sense). Here we meet beauty Beth (Odette Yustman) and the guy behind the camera who we presume to be her boyfriend, Rob. Rob (played by Michael Stahl-David) is the fellow for whom the going away party is being thrown due to a new job as vice-president of some company in Japan.
From there it seems that whoever is in charge of the camcorder likes to pretty much record anything and everything as it follows people walking down the streets of New York City and into Rob's apartment which is being prepared for a surprise going away party for him. We meet Rob's brother Jason (Mike Vogel), who has been tasked by his girlfriend Lilly (Jessica Lucas) with recording "testimonials" from all the guests at the party. Jason is not pleased and manages to hand off the job to Rob's best friend Hud, who at first grudgingly takes up the task. Eventually Hud starts to enjoy it as the night goes on and he gets a bit drunk while faithfully filming everything that's going on.
We also meet a young woman named Marlena (played by Lizzy Kaplan), who Hud has his eye on but can't seem to work up the courage (or charm) to talk to properly. By this time the audience is finally getting absorbed into the whole camcorder point of view thing, but it does take a while. The official government opening of the film doesn't quite jive with all this preliminary material, but eventually it does get to the point where Hud wants to keep recording because "someone should see this."
As we all know already, it's during this party that all hell breaks loose and when it happens it's extremely effective. I found myself thinking of Asian horror films, where up until the stuff hits the fan they can be incredibly mundane and almost boring, which then makes for a much more jarring effect when things veer off into the bizarre.
There's a lot of humor in the film, mostly provided by cameraman Hud (played by unknown T.J. Miller who is not seen a lot but whose presence is constantly felt). One thing I found funny in particular was moments after the initial attack, when the head from the Statue of Liberty ends up in the middle of a Manhattan street, while some people are screaming and yelling "Oh My God!" a bunch of folks gather around the head in the middle of the chaos to calmly take pictures of it with their cell phones and digital cameras.
I didn't expect the film to be funny at all, but the humor was sprinkled throughout the film very effectively, at time relieving the tension of what was happening on screen. Cloverfield also has a much larger scale than I expected considering the hand-held premise, showing citywide vistas and long shots of the creature. On the flip side, if you absolutely HATE the "jumpy camera" film style I have to say this film is not for you. Well, maybe if you sit in the very last row.
Now when I say "larger scale," don't go in expecting some mega-production... Although the effects are, well, effective, it's more of an intimate film where we get to know the five friends and experience what happens through their eyes in real time.
Yes, 9/11 did come to mind and yes, it did make me a bit uneasy. But what I liked was that in a way it was almost cathartic (just stay with me here): As the people on the street that day didn't know exactly what was going on despite the fact they were witnessing it first hand, the characters in the film (and the audience) experience similar confusion in the face of disaster of a different sort here.
Regarding the viral marketing of this film: In the end, it fits the final product perfectly. It really is a small film about a small group of friends with the occasional "big" scene here and there.
The creature is very cool and had kind of an H.P. Lovecraft look about it, and it delivers a few surprises. The characters were believable and well acted for this sort of film and that was extremely important, because if you didn't care about them you had nothing (cough, AVP-R, cough).
So for all you movie reviewer haters out there that think I don't cut sci-fi movies (AVP-R) or TV shows (The Sarah Connor Chronicles) enough slack, Cloverfield exemplifies what a Screen Rant review is all about: In the end does the movie entertain the audience without insulting their intelligence?
If the answer is yes, it gets a great review from me.