Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted January 20, 2008
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Cloverfield is a love story.
Now, I bet you didn't expect to see that in any review of this movie, did you? Most will say it's a monster movie, some might say it's one of the best of that type in many years. Others will speak about the amateurish cinema-verité style, or mention the claustrophobic feel throughout, somewhat mirroring how many New Yorkers must live their lives, suffocated by all that concrete and steel.
The filmmakers force us to accept several conceits in order to enjoy this film. It begins with a notice that the video is the property of the government, and that it was discovered in an area "formerly known as Central Park." The main problem I have with accepting that was not apparent until the final events depicted on the tape, but they are ones that lead me to believe such a tape could not have survived those events. The other conceit is that it makes sense that someone would continue taping during all of the traumatic events that transpire, or that the camera itself could survive the many beatings it most likely received throughout the ordeal (but if there is a camcorder that tough, that's the one I want to buy!). This is where suspension of disbelief has to be invoked, or else there would be no film to be discussed. That aside, let's get to the movie itself.
In the opening scenes on the discovered tape (which has the time stamp of April 27) we meet twenty-something New Yorkers Rob and Beth (Stahl-David and Yustman) in the early morning hours following what must have been a passionate evening. Rob is taping the view from her high-rise apartment adjacent to Central Park, then zooms in on her still sleeping figure. He wakes her, and they talk about a trip to Coney Island, and Rob is astounded when she confesses she has never been there. Then they are on the train in route, but the scene abruptly switches to a noisy evening in another apartment, and the time stamp now reads May 22. We learn Rob has just landed a job in Japan and will be departing in a few days, and his brother Jason (Vogel) and his girlfriend Lily (Lucas) have planned a going-away party, and they will be taping farewells and best wish testimonials from all of Rob's friends. They implore friend Hud (Miller) to man the camera, and he does, but he seems more interested in focusing on the beautiful Marlena (Caplan) than he does making sure the tape is one Rob will treasure in days to come.
Rob enters, is surprised (or maybe not), but is decidedly upset when he learns they are using his camera, and that they are using the tape that was already in it, and we realize they are taping over his day with Beth. There are several instances throughout the film, when Hud stops the camera to rewind or check something, where we see the original scenes still there, remembrances of a lost and beautiful day. For some reason, Rob has not spoken to Beth in the three weeks since, perhaps not sure he wanted to continue the relationship they began that night, but it is very apparent that he is upset when she arrives at the party in the company of another man. After a couple of awkward exchanges, Rob makes himself scarce, and Beth and her date leave. Shortly afterwards, the party-goers are terrified by deep rumblings and the building shaking as if in an earthquake, and momentarily they are in the dark. They make it to the roof, witness destruction uptown which leads them to believe it is possibly a terrorist strike. They make it to ground level, only to find the streets teaming with traumatized people heading south, and then are astounded by the broken head of the Statue of Liberty landing in the street just feet from them. Vague glimpses of some giant shape moving beyond the buildings in the background panic them into seeking shelter in a nearby shop.
I'm not going to describe any more of the action, since everything should be self-explanatory from here. The city is in chaos, the military has quickly moved in and are attempting a forced evacuation of Manhattan as well as attempting an attack on the unknown threat. Rob receives a call from Beth on his cell, and he is determined to get back to her, against the wishes of everyone else in the group. It is this compulsion to see her again, to right the wrong he has done to her, that propels the rest of the film. The destruction all around them is merely the backdrop to the unrelenting fear Rob has that he will never see her again. If that is the case, it is evident nothing else that could happen to him really matters. This is what I meant by the review's opening statement. Love can do some pretty strage things to a man, and one of them is to act in ways that are seemingly not in his best interest. But love can also find a way to heroics, and this is what we witness in the final half of this short film (essentially just 75 minutes when you subtract the end credits).
There had been quite a bit of speculation that the monster would not be seen, other than a few brief glimpses of portions of its anatomy, and for most of the film it seems that was going to be the case. But towards the end, we do get several views of it, one of them very close-up. This is not Godzilla of course, much more weird and other-worldly than that, and a helluva lot scarier too, especially because it is a totally unknown entity. What is it, where is it from, underground or outer space? That question may have been answered in a very subtle way, but I'm going to have to see the film again to be sure, and pay special attention to the very last seconds.
I should warn you (as did the theater) that if you are prone to motion sickness when confronted with extremely shaky camera movements, this might be a film you would want to avoid. For instance, if the Blair Witch Project made you queasy, this one will definitely put you over the edge. It didn't bother me though, since I felt the story and characters were compelling enough to overcome it. I can't say the same for anyone else, but I did like this movie and do recommend it. I just gave it a rating of 8-out-of-10 at IMDb.com.
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