Holy viral marketing campaign, Batman. Cloverfield, the latest production from J.J. Abrams (best known for Lost and Alias), may be the most hyped movie of the decade. It was pure genius – the whole country had vivid images of the Statue of Liberty’s head rolling down the Avenue of the Americas for weeks prior to it arriving in theaters. But, the downside to this monstrous onslaught of hype is: can the movie live up to its forecasted potential?
Almost. Nothing can live up to that kind of expectation (I suspect sleeping with Alessandra Ambrosio very well might); although director Matt Reeves does a commendable job keeping viewers interested after the initial awe has faded. The first thing that smacks you in the face like a Mike Tyson punch (in his prime) is the notion that Cloverfield is not going to be your ordinary monster movie like Godzilla. For the first 20 minutes or so, there is absolutely no mention of any creature. Hell, aside from one scene, the creature is almost always hidden from view! It’s also told from a first-person vantage point, captured wholly on a Sony Handycam, in a The Blair Witch Project-y sort of way. Both of these methods help to build the intensity and make you feel like you are a part of the movie as it happens.
It all starts off innocently enough with a party. Hud Platt (T.J. Miller), Jason Hawkins (Mike Vogel), Lily Ford (Jessica Lucas), Marlena Diamond (Lizzy Caplan) and many others are throwing a goodbye bash for Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David). He’s landed himself a dream job and in the next days will be relocating to Japan (irony at its finest). But all is not well at the party, as Rob’s ex-girlfriend Beth McIntyre (Odette Yustman) – a girl he still happens to love – arrives in the company of another man. After confronting her, she leaves in a huff – and like a light switch being flicked off, that’s when the world changes forever for everyone.
Something is absolutely laying waste to Manhattan. Explosions light up the sky and skyscrapers crumble to the ground. In a dramatic play, Reeves uses the effect of 9/11 to drum up the horror citizens of the Unites States felt – dust columns overtaking people in the streets, people frantically rushing to safety over the Brooklyn Bridge, Air Force jets flying overhead – and uses it to its fullest potential. If there weren’t fleeting glimpses of this “thing” mindlessly thrashing about the streets, one could easily link the happenings to another terrorist success story.
Anyways, Rob comes to the conclusion that he can’t leave Beth behind (she calls him on his cellphone), so along with Merlena, Lily and Hud, he leaves the protective blanket of the Army and heads back into the maelstrom. I’m not going to go much into detail, but there are a few interesting moments captured by Hud with his trusty camera; most notably their introduction to It’s offspring.
Of course inconsistencies abound, but they have to happen to let the Cloverfield story unfold. Amazingly, everyone has a mobile phone that isn’t receiving an “all circuits are busy” message. I don’t know about you, but I’m switching my service plan to that carrier. Through it all, that trusty camcorder keeps right on recording – no amount of drops can slow it down and battery drain . . . what’s that?. I shouldn’t have to mention the fact that once the Army possesses you in an emergency, they’ll never let you walk away – not even for love – but amazingly enough they show them to the door and even open it for them.
Aside from these, and other less pronounced oddities, Cloverfield delivers on all fronts. You feel the confusion and fear the characters experience as they’re running through the streets. You even care about their outcome, even though for the most part they’re all interchangeable. The use of the monster that we see so little of and know even less about, is very well done. The lack of explanation makes it all the more scarier and creepier. With this as the first mega-release of the year, 2008 has started off on the right foot.