The premise is that a tape has been found in Central Park after an unexplained disaster, and our task is to sit back and watch it. It begins with playful couple Rob and Lily (Michael Stahl-David and Jessica Lucas) as they speak to one another after a night of apparent unabashed sexuality.
The video spends a little more time with them, but then we skip ahead to Rob's going-away party (he's leaving for Japan), with he and Lily no longer together. After a few minutes of character development, there's a big tremor, then another, then a nasty roar, and then explosions and beheaded national monuments. The film never lets up from here, and possesses a high freak-out factor. Whatever it is attacking the city we only see in brief, partial glimpses.
Cloverfield is a shaky, shaky movie. It's filmed handheld, and seen mostly through the perspective of Hud (T.J. Miller) somebody who is not used to a video camera. Hud doesn't always hold the camera to his head; sometimes it is at his side as he runs like hell to safety, or is dropped on the ground when he's knocked off his feet. Simply put, the effect can be disorientating on the audience.
I saw many people get up and leave during Cloverfield. Every thirty seconds or so somebody would woozily walk down the steps towards the entrance. Sometimes they came back and sometimes they were never seen again.
The movie may give you motion sickness, if you are prone to that sort of thing. But I get sick on the Disney Tea Cup ride, and the movie didn't make me dizzy. Still, I've heard more reports of people sickened at screenings of this movie than I did with Woody Allen's handheld opus, Husbands and Wives. My advice is to give yourself some distance from the screen.
Director Matt Reeves and producer J.J. Abrams (the man responsible for "Lost" and all of its mystery and self contained mythology) reveal nothing obvious about the monster's origins. It's reptilian in nature, and it sheds spider-like parasites that do very horrible things to members of the cast. With only brief glimpses at television sets and quick chats with military men, the protagonists remain in the dark about what is attacking them.
Give the cast of relative unknowns credit for acting as if they aren't acting, and doing it well. They're dialogue and reactions seem very spontaneous, and nobody behaves as if they are "faking" a reality scenario with scripted lines (Something that marred Brian De Palma's lame Iraq War drama, Redacted). The special effects, including the destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge, seamlessly blend into the video format. The monsters swishing tale and clawed feet look real.
As for the monster, you do eventually get a long glimpse of it. I'll just say that it's an ugly bastard, and I wouldn't want it in my city. I had a great time at this one. You'll hear some folks liken it to a scary amusement park ride, and I belong in that party. You'll also hear some folks claim the jittery film made them ill, so proceed with caution if shaky cam has given you headaches in the past.
Directed by: Matt Reeves. Written by: Drew Goddard. Starring: Lizzy Caplan, T.J. Miller, Mike Vogel, Jessica Lucas. Rated: PG-13.