By Sean O'Connell
We should have seen this coming. Team Cloverfield dropped more than enough hints suggesting they knew what they were doing, from the inspired viral marketing campaign to the seeds of a deeper mythology planted on message boards. But with hype meters peaking, cautiously optimistic fanboys willing to entertain the notion that a good movie could be released in January sharpened swords for a potential backlash.
With apologies to Public Enemy, believe the hype. Cloverfield director Matt Reeves has created an abnormality, a visceral monster movie that doesn't overly concern itself with its actual monster. The filmmaker certainly doesn't go out of his way to show his beast. Not because he doesn't want to, but because he can't. That's not the movie he decided to tell.
Instead, the Cloverfield collective -- which includes Reeves, producer J.J. Abrams (Lost), and writer Drew Goddard (Alias) -- focuses on a rescue mission to drive their skeletal plot. It is conducted by four urban prepsters who begin the evening attending a harmless surprise party for the affable Rob (Michael Stahl-David), who is leaving New York the next morning to accept a promotion overseas. But the group eventually risks life and limb to reach a friend (Odette Yustman) trapped in her apartment after a reptilian creature emerges without warning from the Hudson River and wrecks havoc on the Lower East Side.
The experiment is ingenious. The results, though, can be frustrating because Reeves stays commendably focused on his goal. Where other filmmakers might have been tempted to cut away from the leads and sneak full-fledged peeks at the creature, Reeves commits to his premise and finds fresh ways to draw familiar conceits (hysterical crowds, massive explosions, a requisite military presence) into his story.
Cloverfield isn't perfect, and nitpickers will find enough to, well, pick. The film's narrow-minded approach leaves numerous questions regarding the monster unanswered. Where did it come from? What happens if you get bit by the creature (or one of its offspring)? Goddard also attaches too many false endings to the story. Cloverfield is one tight ending shy of being a modern monster masterpiece.
It's hardly an exaggeration to claim Cloverfield marks a milestone in contemporary filmmaking, a pinprick that systematically deflates the traditional, overblown, special-effects extravaganzas we equate with our summer season. Reeves' film appeals directly to the maturing YouTube generation without pandering. It wisely understands that its primary audience, weaned on handheld paparazzi footage and reality television, will be far more impressed by footage they believe they themselves could have captured using a cell phone than any big-budget effect.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 18th January 2008
Box Office Worldwide: $170.8M
Distributed by: Paramount
Production compaines: Paramount Pictures, Bad Robot
Rotten Tomatoes: 77%
Fresh: 152 Rotten: 46
Cast & Crew
Screenwriter: Drew Goddard
Starring: Lizzy Caplan as Marlena, Jessica Lucas as Lily, Odette Annable as Beth, Michael Stahl-David as Rob, Mike Vogel as Jason, T. J. Miller as Hud, Anjul Nigam as Kassierer, Margot Farley as Jenn, Theo Rossi as Antonio, Brian Klugman as Charlie, Kelvin Yu as Clark, Liza Lapira as Heather, Lili Mirojnick as Lei, Ben Feldman as Travis, Elena Caruso as Party Goer, Vakisha Coleman as Party Goer, Will Greenberg as Party Goer, Rob Kerkovich as Party Goer, Ryan Key as Party Goer, Hooman Khalili as Party Goer, Rasika Mathur as Party Goer, Baron Vaughn as Party Goer, Charlyne Yi as Party Goer, Roma Torre as Herself, Rick Overton as Frantic Man, Martin Cohen as Burly Guy, Jason Cerbone as Police Officer, Pavel Lychnikoff as Russian Man on Street, Billy Brown as Staff Sgt. Pryce, Scott Lawrence as Lead Soldier, Jeffrey De Serrano as Soldier, Tim Griffin as Command Center Officer, Chris Mulkey as Lt. Col. Graff, Susse Budde as Medic, Jason Lombard as Second Medic, Jamie Martz as Helicopter Pilot, Don Abernathy as New York Street Pedestrian (uncredited), Michael Ark as Party Goer (uncredited), Caley Bisson as Party Bartender (uncredited), James Thomas Bligh as EMS Commander (uncredited), Maylen Calienes as Frantic Girl on Bridge (uncredited), Craig Dabbs as Army Sgt. First Class (uncredited), Tommy Gerrits as Boy Looking at Magazines (uncredited), Jason Giffin as National Guardsman / Tank Gunner (uncredited), Adam Greeves as Military Personnel (uncredited), Brandon G. Holley as Military Personnel (uncredited), Hisonni Johnson as Party Goer (uncredited), Adam Karst as New Yorker (uncredited), Julio Leal as Rocketeer / Soldier (uncredited), Jake McLaughlin as Helicopter Pilot (voice) (uncredited), Rachel Mower as Injured Girl (uncredited), Gene Richards as First Man Coughing (uncredited), Bertrand Roberson Jr. as Military Personnel (uncredited), John Robert as Injured Guy on Bridge (uncredited), Chris Spinelli as Party Goer (uncredited), Andrew Trujillo as Military Personel (uncredited), Maria Zambrana as Brooklyn Bridge Victim (uncredited)