Directed by: Matt Reeves
Starring: Michael Stahl-David, Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller
Produced by Lost mastermind J.J. Abrams, and massively hyped before its arrival, Cloverfield is presented as found footage (retrieved from what was “previously known as Central Park”). The tape – or, rather, the digital video – begins with the preparations for a party: Rob is moving to Japan to work and his friends are throwing a going-away party.
Character relations, including some romantic complications, are sketched out before the festivities are interrupted by a hell of a bang. The guests rush up to the roof of the building and see massive explosions in downtown Manhattan. They run down into the street, just in time to see the chopped off head of the Statue of Liberty come flying. Rob gets a panicked call from Beth, the girl he’s in love with, and together with a couple of friends he tries to reach her apartment, which of course is located in the middle of the disaster area.
What sets Cloverfield apart from most monster and/or disaster flicks I can think of right now is that it is entirely subjectively shot. The events are filmed by a guy named Hud, who’s been saddled with documenting the party and just keeps shooting when chaos erupts. If you thought The Blair Witch Project was shaky enough, hold on to your seat: this one is frequently even shakier.
But it achieves its purpose, which is to pull us right into the center of the action. Cloverfield is a quite intense experience; it’s Godzilla shot as a bystander video. Movie monsters usually don’t fare well when given too much exposure, and the makers of Cloverfield are wise enough to mostly keep the monster out of sight, only giving us brief, tantalizing glimpses before we finally get a couple of clearer views near the end of the movie.
The classic Godzilla movies are often said to deal with the threat of nuclear weapons. After 9/11, this kind of movie will inevitably take on different connotations. The suddenness of the attack, the panic and chaos that ensues, the confusion and fear of not knowing exactly what’s going on – all of this is excellently captured in Cloverfield.
And as a modernisation of the disaster movie genre, it is interesting and thrilling, with quite a bit of spectacular destruction going on. Effects-wise it is very well done, with the digital imagery seamlessly integrated into the shaky footage. And if you have a home cinema sound system, crank it up because the soundtrack (no score, just the thundering sounds of Manhattan torn apart) is pretty impressive.