Movie Review: Cloverfield

Unrestrained madness erupts when a rip roaring monster runs through the streets of New York in Cloverfield. A fantastic bit of mindless entertainment, Cloverfield won’t disappoint that little part of all of us that wants to build the sand castle too close to the waves.

Friends of Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David) throw him a surprise party to wish him goodbye because he is taking a job in Japan. Lily Ford (Jessica Lucas), the girlfriend of Rob’s brother, Jason, (Mike Vogel) has given herself the task of head party planner. Good friend Hud Platt (T.J. Miller) takes to filming testimonials from the party goers. That is, until a large earthquake rumbles the city and a woman’s head comes rolling down the street. Terrified, the party follows the crowd running down the street. There are military encounters, creature encounters and interpersonal encounters. Willing to sacrifice anything to save a member of their group, they set into the heart of the danger zone with little more than hope and their wits to keep them alive.

Most creature movies play out like a biography of the creature because the cameras follow the creature around, documenting the death and destruction. The audience often knows more than the characters, giving the audience an advantage over the characters. Cloverfield is a little different. They creature is not the main character but the antagonist of the story. The audience knows a little more than the people in the story but for the most part is as shocked and stunned as Jason, Rob, and Lily as they run through the city. Their fear became my own, my heart pounding as if I were running myself.

There is so much tension in Cloverfield. My heart was beating so fast I worried I a trip to the emergency room would be necessary. There were times I had to remind myself to breathe.

Hud Platt (T.J. Miller) provides needed tension relieving humor. He has very little screen time but he is in nearly every shot. Cloverfield does achieve a great deal of well timed humorous scenes that gives the audience, and probably the characters, much needed levity and contributes to the hope that there is something left to laugh about.

The camera work is may be nauseating to those people who are easy to queasy because it is supposed to be shot by an amateur, often while running. You do become intimate with the shoes of each of the characters, knowing who is in the shot by the color make and model. Even still, I enjoyed the camera work, often finding it reflective of the emotions in the scenes. There are even breaks in footage to create fear and laughs.

As with most modern, computer-generated creatures, the better choice would have been to leave the creature obscured. A shiny mix between teenaged oily and serpentine, the skin on the monster makes suspending disbelief hard. When I finally got a good look at it, I didn’t feel any more enlightened to its physiological makeup, no more fascinated and far more confused. There is one exception; near the end of the movie there is a short insightful scene where the creature is beautiful, almost serene and utterly frightening. Original and believable is hard, too hard for the animators, art director Doug Meerdink and director Matt Reeves in Cloverfield.

Cloverfield is smashtacular arnchfest with a love story that plays a simple, but not unpleasing, love song. Sometimes a monster movie is just what you need and Cloverfield will be just what you want.