STARRING: Michael Stahl-David, Odet Jasmin, Mike Vogel, Lizzy Kaplan

2008, 90 Minutes, Directed by:
Matt Reeves

At his Manhattan going-away party, Michael Stahl-David plays a young man troubled by feelings for the girl he’s coldly leaving behind. Odette Yustman is a stunning hottie who was a close friend until he threw on the brakes. Now he’s leaving for Japan and may not see her again. Comedian T.J. Miller is the jackass friend Hud, who’s video-taping the party. A jolt shakes the building. A fireball explodes in the distance. The torn-off head of the Statue of Liberty comes to rest in the street. Confusion turns to panic as people try to escape a King Kong-sized creature attacking New York. How many will make it?

The headless Statue of Liberty shot revealed in a two-minute teaser trailer filmed in late May 2007, and released a few weeks later attached to Michael Bay’s summer blockbuster Transformers, caused quite some hype. The sequence was apparently a huge leap of faith from the studio according to Cloverfield producer Bryan Burk. The trailer itself was actually shot prior to the start of production on Cloverfield and was filmed on the Paramount back lot. “The reaction was just what we’d hoped for,” admitted Cloverfield producer J.J. Abrams. “No one had heard of this movie yet. We didn’t even put a title on it, something the MPAA had never seen before.” (By the way, Cloverfield is a street near Abrams’ office in West Los Angeles.)

(Incidentally, growing up, Abrams was a big fan of the film Escape from New York. “One of the things that drove me crazy is the poster had this picture of the head of the Statue of Liberty sitting in the middle of a New York street, but it was never in the movie. I always felt that was such a crazy, scary image, that it had to be in our movie . . .”)

"The shaky cam and YouTube Lonely Girl 15 vibe set this film apart . . ."

However Cloverfield is nothing else but a disaster movie like Poseidon or The Towering Inferno mixed with a creature feature like Godzilla or Alien. What sets the film apart though is its shaky cam and YouTube ‘Lonely Girl 15’ vibe. Think Cameron Crowe meets Godzilla meets Blair Witch Project. All the footage in Cloverfield is deliberately shaky handheld, much of it shot by T.J. Miller himself, who plays the part of annoyingly idiotic friend who can’t stop saying stupid things or hitting on a girl who obviously loathes him. Hud’s incessant commentary about the horrific scene unfolding does not let up, despite his not having the slightest clue what’s happening. It’s like somebody handed a video camera to Seth Rogen’s character in Knocked Up.  All the acting is top notch, although the actors are mostly unknown. Hottie Odette Yustman is definitely on her way to becoming a star.

This horror film has very little gore in contrast to many of today's torture-porn, ultra-hyper-violent horror movies. Thankfully, Cloverfield is an “everybody scream and run away from the monster” film, in the tradition of the B&W Japanese Godzilla movies, an obvious influence. In 2006 producer J.J. Abrams was in Japan promoting the release of Paramount’s Mission: Impossible III when he noticed the many Godzilla toys at a local toy store. “It struck me that here was a monster that has endured culturally, something which we don’t have in the States,” said Abrams in an interview. “I began thinking, what if you were to see a monster the size of a skyscraper, but through the point of view of someone, relatively speaking, the size of a grain of sand? To see it not from God’s eye or a director’s or from an omnipotent point of view.”

Ultimately Cloverfield is a must-see for creature feature fans.

- Robin Rowe

A victim of its own over-hype, Cloverfield isn’t exactly the new Transformers-style megabuster as the advertising made audiences believe: just an okay small budget creature feature. Filming a Godzilla movie from the victims’ point of view instead of, let’s say, the scientists struggling to understand what it is or the military bigwigs trying to kill it is such a breathtakingly simple idea that one is surprised that no one has ever thought of it before. It was a mistake filming the entire movie in steadicam though. After all, we had seen the whole thing done before in Blair Witch Project, and the viewer spends huge chunks of the movie battling motion sickness. The few moments of stillness come as an actual relief. Still, it has its moments and Cloverfield is at times frightfully well done, a fact which its low-tech filming technique obscures. But the ending (again cribbed from Blair Witch) is a let down. Not bad, but if you’re looking for a really cool monster-on-the-rampage flick then try out the South Korean movie The Host instead. At least the camerawork won’t have you puking in your popcorn . . . James O'Ehley


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