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Movie Review: Cloverfield

By Eric Hughes

March 19, 2008

They look a lot better than the tailies from Lost.

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Cloverfield is an experiment in unrelentless creativity. More thrilling than it is terrifying, the film's exaggerated cinema verite is reminiscent of 1999's The Blair Witch Project, but trade Maryland backwoods with New York City and a measly urban legend with a 500-foot beast. The flick documents the damage of an unstoppable monster on a city and its inhabitants, told through the camera lens of an amateur photographer recovered and played back by the U.S. Government.

There's nothing new here in the plot and the way it unfolds, but there is in the way in which it is told. Cinema's rule book, in fact, is thrown completely out the window. Taking place over a single night of hell, there appears to be no order in its storytelling, as the camera mindlessly bounces from one area of the city to the other, from a suspended bridge to the subway, from trashed convenience stores to makeshift hospitals, pieced together from the end of one horrific scene to yet another tap of the record button.

And long before the monster attack, which hits the ground running quickly and doesn't let go until the film's final frame, it's nearly impossible to visually ingest what you are watching without being overcome with a sense of utter bewilderment. It's so choppy, amateur, primitive. At times, especially towards the beginning when the story is just starting to unfold, Cloverfield in no way "feels" like a movie at all. Instead, it can best be compared to screening someone's home movie. That is, a home movie recorded during an incredibly horrific (let alone unfortunate) period of time.




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Cloverfield is littered with a cast of unknowns, which works brilliantly here since producer J.J. Abrams and his cohorts pulled out all the stops to make this one feel as authentic and real as possible. Surely it would not have made a bit of sense for Matt Damon to be leading a team of 20-somethings to safety, nor should they have opted to follow standard monster movie protocol by focusing the camera solely on scantily clad, hot, busting women.

Though strangely missing from Cloverfield is a sense of back story, context, resolution – all key parts of any story that Abrams, up to this point at least, meticulously details. His creations for the small screen – the since retired Alias, the still confusing Lost – come highly praised by critics and fans alike for their creativity, watchability and most importantly, their own specific mythology and attention to detail. Abrams has the first two down easy, but the latter points are significantly missing from Cloverfield. Of course, one could argue that it makes sense for the attack to be ambiguous: We know just as little as the characters since the story is happening before us in (somewhat) real time. However, Abrams is simply better than that, and the error consequently puts a damper on the film's credibility.

Even so, you have to take the film for what it is. It's not a psychological thrill ride, but a monster movie. And in this case, it's damn good and incredibly original.


     


 
 

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