Cloverfield

    Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David) is going to Japan for new job. His brother, Jason (Mike Vogel) and their friends are giving him a going away party in his Manhattan apartment. Jason has been given the assignment by his girlfriend, Lily Ford (Jessica Lucas), of documenting the evening with a video camera. He passes this responsibility off to Hud (T.J. Miller) a somewhat dim but good hearted friend. Hud is attracted to Marlena Diamond (Lizzy Caplan), so there’s a lot of footage of her on the tape. 

    Rob complicated his life recently by sleeping with gal pal Elizabeth McIntire (Odette Yustman) and then not calling her. She shows up with another guy, sending Rob into a funk. He confronts her and she leaves for her apartment uptown. This sends Rob onto the fire escape for a good sulk. Jason and Hud try to cheer him up. Then a giant monster attacks the city. Rob calls Elizabeth on her cell phone and discovers that she’s trapped and injured in her apartment. In the confusion and carnage he tries to make his way uptown to rescue her. Hud, Lily and Marlena follow him.

    The camera with the tape in it is later found abandoned in Central Park.

    This concept, sort of Godzilla meets the Blair Witch Project, is actually not the most unusual thing about Cloverfield. That distinction is reserved for the movie’s coy marketing campaign. Teaser trailers have been in the theaters for month and for a while even the title of the film was a secret. There has also been a large web presence. Consequently fan boy enthusiasm has been building to an unbearable pitch. Fan favorite J.J. Abrams produced the film, which put expectations into the stratosphere.

    For me, those expectations were met. This is an intense and completely engrossing film from the opening, when the little dramas of the characters’ lives are unfolding, to the last desperate scenes. It’s all brilliant.

     First of all the conceit of the film is carried through completely. There isn’t a shot in here that looks staged. The camera sways and jumps and often you don’t get a good look at things, especially the monster, at least not until the end, but that heightens the tension. The sets look like real gritty New York streets. Some of it has to be CGI but the integration is seamless. When you do get to see the monster, it’s pretty convincing.

    The performances are exceptional. The cast is made up of mostly unknowns. Stahl-David is compelling as Rob. He captures the doubts Rob is feeling about accepting this job and leaving Elizabeth. There are times when you want to smack Hud and tell him to shut up, but overall T.J. Miller plays him as a likable oaf, who makes stupid jokes and inappropriate observations when he’s nervous. Lizzy Caplan plays Marlena like that beautiful untouchable girl we all knew in high school, only the situation brings out hidden depths.
   
    My only criticism is that I’m not sure these three people would follow Rob uptown to rescue his girlfriend. He seems like a good guy and all, but there are limits. I’ve heard others complain about not seeing enough of the monster, or that the hand held camera is confusing and dizzying. I will say that a kid threw up in the theater when I saw it. Most of all, some may complain about the ending, which I won’t ruin for you.

    None of that bothered me. I was on the edge of my seat almost from the first frame. To me Cloverfield lives up to it’s considerable hype.

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