The premise behind CLOVERFIELD is a simple one: what if a giant sized Godzilla or King Kong type monster attacked Manhattan one night and the story was told not through the eyes of the military or scientists but ordinary people just trying to live through that night? That’s the story in a nutshell and it’s related to us by means of a video camera found after the monster attack. A group of close friends have gotten together to throw a going away party for Rob (Michael Stahl-David) who has landed a lucrative job in Japan. During the party he argues with Beth (Odette Yustman) a girl he had a brief but passionate love affair with. The argument, along with everything else at the party is documented on a video camera by Rob’s best friend Hud (T.J. Miller) who really didn’t want the job but was hustled into it by Rob’s brother Jason (Mike Vogel) who really didn’t want to do it either. Hud makes the most of it and even sees it as a way of trying to get to know Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) better. Hud’s got the serious whim-whams for the chick. The fact that Marlena quite obviously doesn’t want to have a thing to do with him is lost on the poor guy but everything is put in its proper perspective when Manhattan is blacked out by what the partygoers think is an earthquake. They soon find out that much worse has hit The Big Apple.
An honest to Gamera monster has attacked Manhattan and is doing an absolutely bang-up job at tearing shit up. Panic stricken crowds are fleeing while the military is trying to contain and/or destroy it with little effect. It’s as if Armageddon times ten has come to town. Rob and the others try to escape via The Brooklyn Bridge but it’s an attempt that ends in tragedy and spectacular destruction. Then Rob gets a phone call from Beth who had left the party after their argument. She’s in her apartment. She’s hurt and can’t get out. She begs Rob to help her. Unfortunately the monster and the United States Army are having their apocalyptic disagreement right between them. Still, Rob figures that if he uses the subway tunnels he can get to Beth. Marlena and Hud go along as does Lily (Jessica Lucas) Jason’s girlfriend. Hud steadfastly records their harrowing night on video as they struggle to rescue Beth and then get off the island of Manhattan alive.
CLOVERFIELD has a lot of good things going for it and number one is the cast of unknowns who go a long way to selling the reality of the situation. This movie wouldn’t have worked nearly as well if say, Shia LaBeouf and Katherine Heigl were playing the lead roles. Since these are faces we’ve never seen on the screen before (well, at least I haven’t) it helps to sustain the conceit that these are just ordinary people caught up in an extraordinary situation. I liked most of the cast, especially Lizzy Caplan who in an amazingly short amount of time creates a real character through her body language and expressive eyes. T.J. Miller just gets to be annoying about halfway through the movie as his character really doesn’t lend anything to the story and apparently he’s along just to tote the camera. But the rest of the cast steps up to the plate admirably. There wasn’t a moment when they didn’t convince me of the reality of what they were experiencing.
What else is good about CLOVERFIELD? Well, the special effects were better than I thought they would be, what little I saw of them (more on that in a minute:
stay tuned) what with the scenes of destruction and panic being a little too realistic at times. There were some scenes where I thought: “My God, that looks just like 9/11.”
Which is okay if that’s what the filmmakers intended. But it was a little jarring to see it in what I had expected to be a simple monster movie. Which brings me to what you really wanna know. You probably want me to cut to the chase and tell you if we see the monster at all in the movie. I won’t keep you in suspense. Yeah, you do see the monster but to be honest most of the time it’s shown at a distance or in quick cuts. There’s only one time where we get a really clear shot of it but still, I couldn’t describe to you what it looks like if you put a gun to my head. Which brings me to my main problem with the movie: the jiggly cam.
I understand that the movie is supposed to be a recording on a video camera and so it has been filmed in nothing resembling a conventional manner. There are very few moments in the movie when the camera is still. There are even moments when the characters are talking but the camera is pointed at the floor or at something else. As I suppose a real person would do with a real camera in such a situation. During a tense scene in the subway tunnels where Rob and the others have to fight off these spider-like creatures that have apparently dropped off the monster it’s really a chore to have to follow what’s going on as the camera is whipping about wildly. If you’ve got any tendencies toward motion sickness at all you’d do best to sit as far back from the screen as far you can get. To give CLOVERFIELD it’s credit: it’s got a solid reason for why the jiggly cam technique is used but halfway through the movie I was wishing I could reach in, grab the cameraman and scream : “Hold the damn thing steady!”
So should you see CLOVERFIELD? You’ve probably made up your mind if you’re going to see it or not so anything I say most likely isn’t going to change your mind. But I’ll throw my twenty-five cents in anyway: it’s an okay movie. I don’t think any movie could have lived up to the hype that surrounded this movie and CLOVERFIELD doesn’t. I don’t think it’s going to be known as a classic of the monster movie genre but it is well made and has solid acting and great special effects. It’s a monster movie that’s not about the monster. It’s about the destruction and horror the monster leaves in his path and it’s presented in an entertaining manner. Despite an ending that reminded me of 1988’s “Miracle Mile” I enjoyed CLOVERFIELD and I think you will. Just sit in the back row of the theatre and you’ll be fine.