Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Monster of a Home Movie

If you’re going to see Cloverfield because you’re looking for an in-depth character study or some sort of psychological thriller about an unknown creature or even some version of Lost in Manhattan, please move on. This movie is not for you.

If you’re looking for an exciting, gripping, realistic (well, as realistic as it can be) monster movie, then go right ahead and buy that ticket.

I've been anticipating this movie since I saw the first teaser poster. Mostly because I knew it was being produced by J.J. Abrams, whom I love, and that Matt Reeves (the director) and Drew Goddard (the writer) are both Lost staff members. Yeah, I know, I'm a fan girl. Sue me.

Anyway, fan obsession aside, Cloverfield is a great monster movie. It’s a little Blair Witch with the camera, but these filmmakers know how to finesse the shaking. It’s a little 28 Days Later with its apocalyptic themes, but there are no freaky half-eaten bodies lying around. It’s a lot Godzilla with the big, scary, parasite-leaking monster. (Yeah, it’s got little friends that have a pretty vicious bite.) I jumped. I cringed. I laughed. I enjoyed every minute of it.

The movie opens on April 27, supposedly the most perfect day of Rob’s (Michael Stahl-David) life. (Also my anniversary, which is why I remembered it.) He and his girlfriend, Beth (Odette Yustman), are going to spend the day at Coney Island. This cheesy little love fest gets cut short when the video jumps ahead to May 22. Rob’s brother Jason (Michael Vogel) has the camera, and he and his girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas) are planning a going away party for him. At the party, Jason hands the camera over to Rob’s best friend Hud (T.J. Miller) so they can record goodbyes for Rob.

The first part of the movie is Hud going around documenting the party with his horrible camera work. When Rob and Beth have a fight on the landing, Hud and Jason go out to talk to their friend when something happens. That something is the kickstart to the second act, and the crazy monster movie begins.

With Hud’s amateurish camera skills, he documents the crazy night that begins with the Statue of Liberty’s head landing in the middle of Manhattan, and ending with…well, I’m not going to tell you that. Why ruin it? What I will say is that Cloverfield may fall nicely into the monster movie genre, but it does it more quietly than most.

You see the monster, but not fully. There's a tentacle here, a long tail there. You’re always trying to figure out exactly what it is—just as Hud and his friends are. There’s not a lot of running and screaming, but there are lots of eerily quiet scenes that keep you energized and waiting for something not so quiet to happen. And then there’s that camera work.

I know there have been reported cases of "movie vertigo," but I think the home video style works really well. There off-center and unsteady shots add to the hysteria and chaos of the situation. But it still stays pretty professional. Even when the camera is whipping back and forth to catch the hysteria, there’s still a slightly steady hand to it.

Besides the camera work, I loved the characters...even if they aren't well-developed. Cloverfield isn’t about the people, it’s about them dealing with this situation. Rob deals with the situation in a calm, collective, completely out of his mind kind of way. Hud (my favorite character) deals with the craziness by talking constantly. The funniest moment in the movie is when he mentions burning hobos in the subway tunnels. have to see it to get that I suppose.

My only real complaint about the movie, if this can even be considered a complaint, is the shot that basically mimics one of the many home video shots from 9/11. It is unnerving and threw me out of the movie for about two minutes. I wish director Matt Reeves had made a different decision. It's a little too real and not enough monster.

Even with this little hiccup, Cloverfield is one of the best monster movies I’ve seen in a long time. Yeah, take that, Peter Jackson.

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