The Plot: Filmed entirely as though shot with a personal handheld camera operated by a civilian, Cloverfield tells the story of a group of friends living in New York when the city is attacked by a giant monster. With little time to spare, this small group of individuals makes their way across the city on foot in an attempt to rescue one of their friends on the other side of town. Meanwhile, the government has taken to the streets in an attempt to stop the rampaging beast of unknown origin.
The Review: With the hype surrounding Cloverfield so high, I'm surprised that it was able to live up to the expectations held by the majority of those who have seen it, including myself. Everyone is familiar with "giant monster" movies such as Godzilla and King Kong, but what sets Cloverfield apart from all of those other films is it's focus, which falls on a group of people completely disconnected from the situation at hand. Usually the main characters of disaster films such as this are people integral to the diffusion of the situation such as scientists or army personnel, but such is not the case with Cloverfield, and that accounts for the majority of the success of the movie. All stereotypes surrounding the genre are thrown out the window in exchange for a very human portrayal of the events during a disaster. As such, the characters become the focus rather than the horrible events they are living through.
My main hesitation going into viewing Cloverfield was the fact that the entire film is portrayed as though filmed by an amateur with a common handheld camera. "Shaky cam" has become a bit of a stereotype in itself these days, often over-used by directors wishing to add intensity to their action scenes or to hide inconsistencies in them. Luckily, instead of dredging up memories of the spastic camera operation in films such as X-Men, the Bourne series, and Transformers, the point of view in Cloverfield serves only to draw the viewer further into the story than most movies can manage. Instead of lingering on long, smooth aerial shots of the film's antagonist destroying beloved landmarks, almost the entire film is shot from the street level, allowing the audience only a glimpse here or there of the monster as though they were really onsite, experiencing the situation for themselves. Also, the fact that the camera is at all times in the possession of the film's main characters keeps the focus squarely on them and their plight. Add to this that the camera operator whose commentary we are constantly privy to is the most likable character in the film (and perhaps the most likable character of any movie ever), and all of my worries about the success of the camera choices made by the filmmakers were for naught.
As a huge fan of monster movies, the biggest draw of Cloverfield for me was the creature responsible for the mayhem which ensues onscreen. Taking a cue from the original Alien, Cloverfield's filmmakers obviously agree with the notion that the less you see of something, the more frightening it is. Employing the camera tricks which I mentioned previously to keep the audience from seeing too much of the movie's monster too soon greatly upped the intensity and my interest in the film. By rarely giving viewers a clear look at what is attacking New York City, the mind is left to make it's own assumptions, which greatly increases the suspense of the film. Despite my extreme desire to know what it looked like, when we are finally given a clear shot of the creature toward the end of the film I couldn't help but think that the it might have worked even better had we never gotten even that good of a look at it. That's how powerful the mystery and suspense of Cloverfield are which, combined with the surprisingly great ability of the entire cast to come across as real people in a candid situation, makes for a viewing experience that I won't soon forget.
The Verdict: Science fiction is at it's most horrific when questions are raised to which there are not any logical or readily available answers, which is a concept that Cloverfield takes to heart. This film takes a genre with a history steeped in laughably bad films and puts a very unique twist on it that completely revitalizes the "giant monster" movie. For fans of monster movies, thrillers, action-packed extravaganzas, and disaster flicks, it doesn't get much better than Cloverfield.