(Review written in January 2008)
I don’t want to spoil anything for anybody about this feature. I’ll just say it’s one of the best horror/suspense movies I’ve had the pleasure of watching in a theater. Whether you’re a genre fan or just curious, read no further and go see “Cloverfield” immediately.
The film’s sneaky ad campaign enticed without enlightening, not giving away any of the goods nor hinting at its surprising, thrilling quality. It delivers a visceral, suspenseful and powerful experience without using its hush-hush surprises as a crutch.
The only window into the apocalypse depicted in “Cloverfield” is through a consumer-grade camera, brought along by Jason Hawkins (Mike Vogel) to record his brother Rob’s (Michael Stahl-David) going away party. Their party is interrupted by Manhattan’s destruction, and their flight for survival is recorded almost entirely by their yuppie chum, Hud (T.J. Miller).
I think “Cloverfield” is a brave movie, because it’s a big-budget production that I thought worked as a cathartic outlet for 9/11. Its images and sounds are exactly like those of the attacks, the towering clouds of gray smoke billowing in the streets, the surreal metropolitan carnage and people running and screaming, and they are thrown on the silver screen for everyone to relive. It doesn’t celebrate the tragedy, but confronts it, and it’s an important movie for doing this, because few other worthwhile ones have. That undeniable association with the terrorist attacks lent urgency to the film characters’ already harrowing situation. By bringing elements of post-9/11 reality to the fore, layers of depth and gravity were added to what is otherwise an incredibly well-made B-Movie.
We go to the movies to leave reality behind, and “Cloverfield” is after-all an entertainment. The movie’s suspense builds confidently without resorting to cheap tricks, like not revealing too much of its insectoid monster too early.
Also, the cast is utterly convincing, acting like they’re really on the front row of the world being smashed to pieces. Any suspense/horror movie worth anything has awesome sound, and “Cloverfield” has it in spades. The booming, dynamic sound effects loom as ominously as the movie’s baddy.
Among all the praise, there is one big negative that some people might not overcome: the disorienting camera movements. I thought the handheld look was done much better in this movie than in, say, “28 Days Later,” because the action rarely blurred and most of the time had awesome clarity. I was used to the film style by the 5 minute mark. Still, some sections were nearly nausea inducing, so don’t go to a screening after a meal.
I had a great time with this movie, and questions still linger about its events. How did the U.S. Government get their hands on that tape? And how did that camera battery stay charged the whole time?
“Cloverfield” gets a whole-hearted recommendation. The 2008 movie year got started with a monstrous step in the right direction.