Directed by: Matt Reeves
Starring: Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Odette Yustman, Mike Vogel
Rated: PG-13 for violence, terror and disturbing images.
Parental Notes: This is a solid PG-13. It’s not quite graphic enough to be an R, but there’s plenty of scary stuff in here. This is not a movie for little kids. Teens and preteens with an appetite for monster movies should be fine, though.
“Cloverfield” is a giant-monster-eats-big-city movie with a gimmick: it’s told from the point of view of a camcorder belonging to one of the characters, so all 84 minutes of it is hand-held camera work. Sometimes the characters are sitting and one of them is holding the camera, but mostly they’re walking or running, and the camera is wobbling and bobbing and occasionally getting dropped. It makes “The Blair Witch Project” look like it was shot with a Steadicam. The screening I was at lost twenty people to motion sickness, and I heard afterwards that four of them threw up. Me, I was queasy for an hour after the end credits rolled.
Like many gimmick movies, if you remove the gimmick, the movie is nothing terribly special. There’s a monster. It attacks the city. A small group of friends tries to evacuate but changes plan when they get a call from the girl one of them is crazy about and learn she’s trapped in her apartment. They set out across the city to rescue her, braving the giant monster, the military, and the tiny monsters the big one seems to be shedding like fleas.
The special effects are pretty good (they’re filtered through the tape-recording fuzz applied to the film, which probably helps). The monster is most frightening when glimpsed briefly amidst its destruction, but we do get a close-up view of it, right before the character holding the camera gets eaten. Of course, the camera gets spat back out.
The characters are pretty simple, which is important in a movie that has little time for character development beyond occasional glimpses of happier times when the camera is shut off and bits of the original matter on its tape are preserved. The acting is solid, and sometimes feels more like a quality improv group working together rather than something scripted. That’s probably helped by the camera work, which puts us right there with the characters.
The gimmick does work — there is no fourth wall, the camera is in the movie with the characters and that puts us right in the middle of things. Even as I was having to look at steady things like the ceiling to keep from getting thoroughly ill, I was drawn in. It wasn’t until after the credits rolled that I started getting annoyed at the things left out to make the gimmick work. Character development, for one. Closure, for another.
It’s obvious from the opening, where we learn the footage is from a camera that was found in an area “formerly known as Central Park,” what is going to happen to the main characters, but we never learn what happened to the city, or what happened to the monster, or where the monster even came from. There are apparently clues in the viral marketing campaign for the film, but unless you’re willing to go hunting online, you’re out of luck. The filmmakers even rub a little salt in the wound with one character’s comment that anybody viewing the camera’s footage probably knows more about the events than he does.
Ultimately, if the gimmick works for you and you don’t mind the lack of explanations, you will probably like “Cloverfield.” If, however, you have any issues with motion sickness, lack of character development, or unexplained monsters, “Cloverfield” will probably not be a fun experience for you.