Jaq's Review: Cloverfield - Watching the Lights Go Out on Broadway

February 9, 2008

What is it? After months of hype and speculation, the J.J. Abrams produced monster movie Cloverfield finally hits the big screen and you know what? We still don't know what it means. And that's okay. From the get go this has been a high-concept affair - "Blair Witch Project meets Godzilla" - and it mostly delivers what it has been promising since we first saw the head of the Statue of Liberty come sailing out of the sky back in June.

As the film opens, we are introduced to the basic concept of the film; that the entire thing is going to be shown to us through the first person lens. We are told the video footage we are watching was found in an area of what was formerly known as Central Park and it is part of something code-named Cloverfield. That's as much explanation as we're going to get over the next 80 minutes or so, about the length of a standard miniDV tape. We watch the story unfold: It starts with typical home movie footage of a surprise going away party. We get a little bit of story and are introduced to some of the party guests - Jason (Mike Vogel), his girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas), the guy holding the camera, Hud (T.J. Miller) and the object of his lust, Marlena (Lizzy Caplan). Then we meet the guest of honor, Rob (Michael Stahl-David) and we learn he's got a shaky romantic past with Beth (Odette Yustman).

Rob, Marlena, and Lily attempt to make their way through downtown New York while avoiding the monster attacking the city in Cloverfield.Cloverfield Review

Nothing is blatant here. Everything we learn we infer. The tape we're watching assumes we know all the players and their relationships. In this way, screenwriter Drew Goddard is both incredibly clever and quite frustrating. If we'd been given more information, we wouldn't buy the premise, but without traditional story-telling markers, it's hard to find empathy for the characters. It's a fine line Goddard walks and for the most part he pulls it off. He's especially good at injecting humor at the proper moments (usually through Hud, who is almost never seen) allowing us a moment's laughter before again sending us back into the terror.

Once the monster attacks, though, all bets are off. Things get jumbled and shaky and we are kept just as off-balance and in the dark as the people we are following. Like them, we never get a good look at the monster, instead just catching glimpses as it slithers by in the distance. What we do get, however, are some interesting cultural visuals. When the creature first attacks, taking down a building or two, our gang runs into a convenience store to avoid the carnage. The resulting wall of dust which envelops the street is so reminiscent of 9/11 footage as to make me slightly uncomfortable. From there, the plot becomes a quest, as Rob realizes he must rescue Beth, who is trapped in her apartment. And away we go.

To be fair, Cloverfield is not breaking new ground. Matt Reeves, who is part of the creative team behind Lost, is almost invisible in his direction. And this is a good thing. With one or two exceptions, we never question the home video footage. His most visible contribution comes from the way he inter-cuts the footage of the ongoing action with the images previously on the tape, always reminding us of why Rob is doing what he's doing.

Yes, the ending is a bit abrupt, it remains consistent with the way the rest of the film is shot. We don't get any answers because the people shooting the footage don't get any and while that's not completely satisfying, to end it any other way would have destroyed the integrity of the film.

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great review. but 9/11 has come up all over the place when talking about this movie. and i don't quite understand it. correct me if i'm wrong, but doesn't a dust cloud naturally get produced when a building collapses? and because there's not where for it to go but through the streets and in between the buildings, it's bound to rush at you like a tidal wave? that's what happened on 9/11. that's what would happen if a monster attacked the the city and smashed a skyscraper. i'm sorry, but if 9/11 didn't happen and there was no footage of dust clouds through the streets of new york, i'm sure that scene would still be in cloverfield. you can't make a skyscraper fall and not have dust clouds rushing through the streets and in between the buildings. right? i don't know, maybe i don't know what i'm talking about.

crAziemutant on Feb 9, 2008


This movie will definatley divide people, i thoroughly enjoyed it and found it a great movie moment, like the first time you see the Dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. Something new and something that reminds me of what movies should do....Entertain and leave us wanting more. J.J.Abrams seems to have a great eye for what works and what can grab peoples imagination as this film when broken down really doesnt equate to much but the way he crafts it together makes it so much more. Star Trek bodes well !!

Fenris on Feb 9, 2008


"We don't get any answers because the people shooting the footage don't get any and while that's not completely satisfying, to end it any other way would have destroyed the integrity of the film." Well said Jaq. That kinda say's it all. I thoroughly enjoyed it but it's not for everybody. Also, excited about the sequel. As for 9-11 creepiness. I definitely don't have a problem with it b/c that was a believable visial of a building getting it's ass kicked.

Sinner on Feb 9, 2008


This is by far my favorite Cloverfield review.

greensuitjacket on Feb 9, 2008


I don't want to be a total kill joy here...but why did this plot synopsis-errr I mean "review" get published over 2 weeks after the movie came out? Seems kind of unnecessary to me.

Ryan on Feb 10, 2008


I just saw this movie and found that at best, it struck me as being merely competent. I didn't think it was bad, I had hoped for more. I found that I didn't really care one lick for the people and their stories. The Host and, strangely enough, AVP2 had people that didn't frustrate me and make me hunger for the next one to die. That said, it would be odd to go to see a monster movie and not be most interested in the monster; I still received great enjoyment from the gradual unveiling of the monster and this is one movie I hope has a sequel, if only to learn more about the beast that made New York its sandbox. I still think Joss Whedon would win in a fight over JJ Abrams, Star Trek movie or no.

Gregory on Feb 10, 2008


The 9/11 dust cloud is relavant because prior to that, all building demolition footage was seen from a distance with no people in the foreground. Having people on the street as the dust/debris cloud sweeps down the street toward the camera, that was a very striking image from 9/11 and (as far as I know) had never been used in a film before 9/11. I don't think this film would have worked 30 years ago. The technology of video cams, the Blair Witch movie, 9/11, and the terribleness of the 90's godzilla movie all set the stage for this film.

AAron Buchanan on Feb 11, 2008


"all building demolition footage" That's the problem. Everybody is saying "that's what a building looks like when it collapses". And that's not true. The dust clouds come from DEMOLITIONS, not from collapses. The dust is the building and its contents being reduced to bits by the explosives. If the building simply collapses then there aren't large dust clouds running through the streets. But everybody believes WTC "simply" collapsed, and I'm sure it didn't. It was demolished. So the problem with the Cloverfield scene is that the monster is not "demolishing" anything, he's just destroying things, and I think that there wouldn't be so much dust. But I'm sure the filmmakers wanted to make a reference to some of the terror of that day, and thought the dust-cloud-take-cover thing was the best.

keroppi on May 20, 2008


Finally got around to watching this. Although an interesting premise, it has more holes in the story than swiss cheese. I got a headache hearing "rob" being called, over and over and over and over. What kind of moron helicopter pilot fly's directly over the monster? Duhhhhhhhhh.

Kevin on Jan 2, 2009

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