Thanks to its clever viral marketing on MySpace and countless other websites devoting to the movie, J.J. Abrams’ ambitions homage to monster flicks takes a new step further by providing an unique viewpoint on a giant creature destroying Manhattan.
The film begins as if someone is watching a videotape that has been found after a mysterious incident in New York City, codenamed ‘Cloverfield’. We briefly see images of a young good-looking couple, Robert Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David) and Elizabeth “Beth” McIntyre (Odette Yustman) before we realise that someone has taped over their day at Coney Island with footage of Rob’s leaving party, before he heads off to Japan.
However, during the party there’s an attack on New York by an initially unseen monster and everyone runs for the streets, just in time to witness the head of the Statue of Liberty come crashing to the ground. With one of his friends still filming – Hudson “Hud” Platt (T. J. Miller) – in the same style of the Blair Witch Project, Rob and his friends risk their lives to rescue Beth before attempting to flee the city.
The action sequences in Cloverfield are pretty intense with echoes to the chaotic moments that followed 9/11, with buildings crumbling to rubble and panic in the city streets. The use of a video camera shot from the victim perspective is a distinctive step of documentary events as it unfolds. Sure, the camerawork might cause some viewers to become ill with the constant shaking and movement but in the age of Web 2.0 and YouTube, the director – Matt Reeves – handles the central concept extremely well, perfectly capturing the sense of fear and mayhem, while maintaining exactly the sort of breathless pace that you’d expect if you were fleeing a giant monster.
Cloverfield is certainly frightening that you left thinking that this attack could happen… The only criticism is all that running and screaming doesn’t provide enough characterisation or dialogue. In addition, we don’t get any back-story on why this monster is here in New York City stomping, eating and causing as much damage as possible.
Despite that, the film is superbly directed with some skilful use of editing – from the happier times of Rob and Beth to the horror of his close friends dying one by one… Cloverfield is an enjoyable thriller that adds a modern twist to the Godzilla-style monster movie, though it’s slightly let down by its characters and plot.