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Overall Rating

Awesome: 32.82%
Worth A Look35.88%
Just Average: 9.16%
Pretty Crappy: 7.63%
Sucks: 14.5%

9 reviews, 77 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"a.k.a. "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Get Squashed"
4 stars

If you ever watched one of those old giant-monster-on-a-rampage movies from the 1950's and wondered what must be going through the minds of the crowds of people fleeing in terror through the streets before the hunky scientists and military guys come in to save the day, then “Cloverfield” will be right up your alley. It takes the basic storyline of this particular cinematic genre–a enormous and mysterious creature suddenly appears in the midst of a major metropolitan area, preferably one with a lot of tall buildings and familiar landmarks, and cuts a path of unimaginable destruction while mankind desperately tries to defend itself from complete annihilation–and views it entirely from the point of view of a few of the people that we usually only see running in every possible direction during a long shot in which a disembodied voice on a loudspeaker announces that the city is under attack and everyone must evacuate in a film that could have just as easily be titled “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Meet Godzilla.” In other words, it is a gimmick movie in which the premise is pretty much the entire show. That said, it is perhaps the most sensationally effective gimmick movie to come around since “The Blair Witch Project” (a film to which it clearly owes a debt) and is one of the few event movies to come along in a long time that actually lives up to its intense pre-release hype.

The conceit of the film is that it is a videotape from a hand-held camera that was recovered by the Department of Defense (complete with a “Do Not Duplicate” watermark that serves both as a piece of verisimilitude and a warning to any potential bootleggers in the audience) that happened to capture the horrific events that we are about to witness. The camera started off that evening at a going-away party for Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David), a rising young executive who is leaving the next day for a new job in Japan, that has been thrown by his brother, Jason (Mike Vogel), and his brother’s girlfriend, Lily (Jessica Lucas). As best pal Hud (T.J. Miller) goes from guest to guest with the camera to record farewell testimonials, it becomes clear that a few weeks earlier, Rob and longtime platonic pal Beth (Odette Yustman) slept together for one night and that he felt so awkward about it afterwards that he has all but ignored her ever since until her unexpected arrival at his party causes tensions to flare up once again. Of course, Hud barely notices most of this because he is himself besotted with another guest, lovely party girl Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), and spends most of his time trying to catch her eye. This sequence goes on for about fifteen minutes or so and just at the point when most audience members may be wondering why producer J.J. Abrams has promised us a monster movie and essentially given us a big-screen version of his defunct TV series “Felicity,” the lights go out, fireballs rocket through the sky and the head of the Statue of Liberty goes bouncing through the streets of Manhattan. (In a nice touch, the moment that it comes to a stop, everyone nearby reflexively out their cell phones and digital cameras in order to snap pictures.)

After some brief speculation about it being an ordinary terrorist attack, it soon becomes apparent that some kind of enormous monster has gone on the rampage and while no one seems to have gotten a good look at it or what it is doing (although one person does point out that “It was eating people”), they have seen enough to realize that they have to flee the city as quickly as possible. In the middle of the throngs crossing the Brooklyn Bridge to hoped-for safety, Rob receives a phone call from Beth (yes, even with Manhattan in ruins, cell phones still manage to work when the plot requires them to do so) and learns that she is trapped in her apartment and badly injured. Despite the fact that it means going right back into the middle of the chaos, Rob decides to go back in an attempt to rescue her and is accompanied by Lily, Hud and Marlena on his quest. As they make their way through the streets, stores and subway tunnels of the city, our heroes encounter fellow survivors, military personnel waging a desperate and losing battle against the creature and, most eerily, once-thriving areas that have literally been wiped away in an instant. (An encounter with a horse-drawn carriage moving through the streets with no one on board is particularly creepy.) Oh yeah, they encounter other things as well but those are the things that I will leave for you to discover, except to point out that if you are walking through a subway tunnel and find a swarm of rats all running in one direction, it probably isn’t a good idea to stand there and speculate as to what they are fleeing.

To say anything more about the particulars of “Cloverfield” is difficult–partly because it wouldn’t be fair to reveal any of the big shocks that director Matt Reeves and screenwriter Drew Goddard (who have worked in the past on such previous buzz-worthy Abrams projects as “Felicity,” “Alias” and “Lost”) have in store and partly because the film is so completely driven by its narrative conceit that there isn’t much else to talk about. Compared to a film like “The Host,” that amazing South Korean monster mash from last year that managed to work in plenty of dark humor, social commentary, honestly earned sentiment and a fairly subversive narrative approach (at least for this particular genre) along with all of the expected chaos and carnage, “Cloverfield” is pretty much all about the idea of giving us a ground-level view of a normal monster movie and nothing more–there are no scientific explanations from a pipe-smoking Raymond Burr-type about what the creature is, no long scenes of the military plotting their moves or stumbling upon the beast’s weakness and, outside of the long opening segment setting up the characters, no long scenes in which our surviving heroes take time out from the disaster surrounding them to swap spit and muse about their futures. Because of the absence of such material, some critics may deem the film to be shallow or one-note but as someone who has seen more than his share of monster mashes over the years, I actually liked the idea of seeing one in which such scenes (which usually turn out to be little more than filler between the Good Parts) are cast aside and given the concept of “Cloverfield,” these omissions actually make sense. This low-key approach to the material also extends to the performances–none of the relatively unknown actors (the best-known of the bunch is probably Lizzy Caplan, who got some attention and set a few hearts aflutter as the delightfully snarky Goth girl sidekick in “Mean Girls”) have a big Oscar-grabbing scene but they do a good and convincing job of coming across as a group of ordinary young people caught in the middle of an extraordinary situation.

Of course, the biggest obstacle that “Cloverfield” is now facing is the massive wave of pre-release hype that it has been riding since last summer–since that teaser left so much to the imagination, the danger is that the potential audience may have dreamed up an ultimate monster movie in their minds that was so spectacular in size and scope that no actual film could possibly live up to live up to what they imagined. Such anticipation has been the undoing of any number of movies, “The Phantom Menace” immediately leaps to mind, but while this may not be the final word in the genre, it is unlikely that many people are going to walk away from it disappointed. The idea of seeing the entire thing through the eye of a hand-held camera may seem objectionable to those who urped their way through “The Blair Witch Project” and “Breaking the Waves” but cinematographer Michael Bonvillain does an exceptionally good job of maintaining the conceit throughout without letting it look too good or too bad (I loves a little bit where the camera is dropped and we see it struggling to auto-focus.) Although director Reeves has never made anything resembling a genre film of this type before (though he has done plenty of television, his only other feature credit was the barely-remembered David Schwimmer comedy “The Pallbearer”), he does a very good job of jolting viewers, both with his extended set-pieces (that subway tunnel trip works up a significant head of creepy fear even before it gets to its punchline) and with the sudden shock moments that occur so quickly that you barely have time to register them. Then there is the monster at the center–well, more like the sides–of the story. Despite some speculation that the beast would never be seen at all (a neat, Val Lewton-like conceit that probably would not have gone down well with contemporary audiences), we do get several startling glimpses of parts of the thing here and there as it lurches between buildings, on a TV screen or into the corner of the frame and when we do get a clearer look at it later one, the half-Lovecraft, half-Harryhausen beast should more than satisfy audiences looking for a new creature to go ga-ga over.

“Cloverfield” has a few rough spots here and there–the relationship between rubble-crossed lovers Rob and Beth isn’t established well enough early on for the final scenes to have the emotional impact they were clearly striving for (although the gimmick the film uses to try to illustrate it is relatively clever)– and its pleasures are so resolutely on its surface level that I suspect that it may not hold up very well on repeat viewings. That said, when it works, which is most of the time, it works so well that most people are unlikely to care or even notice such hiccups. At a time when most event movies are bloated affairs that are overloaded with big stars and elaborate special effects but sadly underweight in regards to ingenuity and fun, here is an event film that has a brilliant central gimmick, deploys said gimmick in a smart and resourceful manner and, most importantly, comes to an end just before the gimmick runs out of steam and becomes tiresome and repetitive. (The story is over and done in about 75 short-and-sweet minutes, though an extended end credits sequence, which includes a stirring Michael Giacchino suite that marks the film’s only use of non-source music, stretches it out for another 10 minutes or so.) In other words, “Cloverfield” is a popcorn epic that more than lives up to its initial promise, an even that is almost as rare as. . .well, as rare as a genuinely entertaining film appearing in the dead of January.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16837&reviewer=389
originally posted: 01/18/08 00:00:00
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User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell a good creature feature 4 stars
2/08/17 Louise As soon as that stupid monster showed up, I knew it was a turkey. 1 stars
9/24/13 David Hollingsworth One of the more awesome/scary found footage films since 'Blair Witch". 5 stars
4/14/13 Durwood Cheezy Grade Z ripoff of Blair Witch and War of the Worlds--DON 1 stars
3/15/10 mr.mike If you can deal with shaky cam , it's good. Damn good. 4 stars
9/19/09 Eggy Swingleforte Oh dear! Get out the vomit bags... [plural] Sheer shite from the highest height. 1 stars
8/18/09 Jeff Wilder Great style. Not one iota of substance. 3 stars
6/03/09 carmen torres i really thought it was a piece of junk i got dizzy with the camara moving all the time 1 stars
3/24/09 Eric Pretty good, though I was bummed when delicious Mike Vogel bites it 20 minutes in. 4 stars
1/08/09 Anonymous. such a cool movie, the ending sort of surprised me... 4 stars
12/18/08 Craig D. Best American monster movie since Jaws. 5 stars
11/08/08 daveyt It's ok, I liked the new take on monster, but Blair Witch was much better, yup I liked BW! 3 stars
10/07/08 Matt Hard to empathise with the characters when the picture jumps all over the place. 3 stars
9/18/08 Max A potent and visceral masterpiece 5 stars
9/11/08 Luke Good idea, terribly executed with little effort in the detail 1 stars
8/11/08 Jon G A unrealistic plot that felt disturbingly real 5 stars
7/27/08 Samantha Pruitt delivered, thought it was a lot of fun, great audience participation! 4 stars
7/11/08 AnnieG Not all that scary and it made my family motion-sick. 3 stars
6/26/08 Doug SHort and sweet 4 stars
6/23/08 Andrew Elkhoury Liked the fact that it was taped by a handy cam and still had great fx. 5 stars
6/16/08 Blop Hell I enjoyed this immensly, despite or because of low expectations 4 stars
6/15/08 CD This was entertaining at times but the camera was annoying and Hud more so. 2 stars
6/14/08 Sam Difficult to watch with the camera moving .. brainless.. 1 stars
6/05/08 Jessay I hated the characters, epic fail 1 stars
5/25/08 David Pollastrini Great FX! 5 stars
5/13/08 Joe Awsome movie, But the ending was very unsatisfactory. 4 stars
5/08/08 Misti K Good and scary... loved it! 4 stars
4/27/08 Jayme Isaacs An Excellent Movie 5 stars
4/23/08 action movie fan scares and thrils galore in the exviting godzilla meets blair witch sci fi adventure 4 stars
4/22/08 Jodi I thought this film was ok, but I wanted to throw up most of the movie from shaky camera 3 stars
4/04/08 Jessica Bielzebub Makes THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT look like a best cinematography winner. 2 stars
3/27/08 Piz A great jump since Blair Witch, and awesome for such a low budget. Was bummed when it ended 4 stars
3/24/08 wnm Cool idea, poorly executed. Subplot stuff came off extremely boting, footage unrealistic 3 stars
3/06/08 wertyboy movie masterpiece, suspense horrow violence and even some humour in their, its a MUST see 5 stars
2/16/08 Zoolook the Awesome Mudkip Meh...nothing spectacular, and the monster looked like a giant Swampert. google and compare 2 stars
2/12/08 elisa perkins The shaky camera work was what made this movie crazy scary. 5 stars
2/04/08 M .Alan Aviseral Masterpeice 5 stars
2/04/08 Paul Shortt Besides disinterest, the only emotion it incites is the emotion of wanting to throw up 1 stars
2/04/08 MP Bartley Nothing new as such, but it uses its concept brilliantly. 4 stars
2/03/08 Advantus Good film. Leaves you wanting more. Where is the prequel? 4 stars
2/02/08 Nick really loved it, the best godzilla-monster movie ever! 5 stars
2/01/08 Alex Thorne This film was everything i wanted it to be. finally, something worth all the hype! 5 stars
2/01/08 Quigley An amazingly effective sci-fi adventure. Stays with you for days afterwards 5 stars
1/30/08 john wonderful ... fine ... a blast ... yippeee ... clever 5 stars
1/29/08 Ming I hate the shaky camera...a bad movie..Why you people like this garbage..... 2 stars
1/29/08 gcc Very innovative filmmaking, felt very real & scary unlike typical CGI monster flicks 4 stars
1/27/08 Jeff Smith Awesome, completely gripping if you can stomach the hand-held camera 5 stars
1/26/08 Bill Kept me entertained. It didn't take itself too seriously either. 4 stars
1/26/08 Tan Worst movie ever. All hype. Save your money and time. 1 stars
1/24/08 Emme Ready for the fun "thrill ride"- got boring, unscarey crap 1 stars
1/24/08 Ramzi Abed It truly is Godzilla meets Blair Witch (with better cameras!) 5 stars
1/23/08 John GREAT experience, way more then just a movie 5 stars
1/22/08 danielle really bad! camera shaking for hr and 1/2 1 stars
1/22/08 Stacy Loved it. Don't go see if you need a Hollywood ending, though. 5 stars
1/22/08 Riki Not exactly scarey, not exactly realistic, but definitely entertaining! 5 stars
1/22/08 beau This was very scary! it had frightening sequences, action and was believable! well made! 4 stars
1/22/08 William Goss And I presume that spelling is where "Likes to read" fails. 5 stars
1/21/08 Likes to read, unlike the President. Great for identifying people with no taste. Guess where Willaim Goss falls. 1 stars
1/21/08 John Wasn’t invested in the characters and didn’t believe it for one second… 1 stars
1/21/08 Mr Freeze I watched it online. It was a camcorder recording of a camcorder recording. B+ 4 stars
1/21/08 Ole Man Bourbon Great entertainment. Characters were abominable though. 4 stars
1/21/08 Noexit Should have been longer. There was something crashed in the water at Coney Island 4 stars
1/21/08 Ron20003 WORST PIECE OF CRAPOLA EVER 1 stars
1/20/08 chach Very unrealistic and cheezy no plot or direction! Probably the worst movie Ive ever seen 1 stars
1/20/08 Brian Mckay Yes, it's a gimmick, but it's a fun one. Monster 10 times scarier than any Godzilla flick. 4 stars
1/20/08 Captain Highcrime 9/11 with a monster...New Yorkers will LOVE it!! 4 stars
1/20/08 c5 Cliched spectacle distracts from serious stupidity and lack of real story. Pure gimmick. 1 stars
1/19/08 tmcmistress very original monster design; just wish we'd seen more of it. 4 stars
1/19/08 Darkstar Awesome movie, great monster. Best action pic you're gonna get this time of year. 5 stars
1/19/08 Obi Wan One of the better movies to come about, plenty of scares and JJ does it again!! 5 stars
1/19/08 Michael Best horror/suspense movie I've seen in years! 4 stars
1/19/08 chris banuchi Guys. At the end of the movie, I swear I seen something crashland into the water at coney 5 stars
1/19/08 MN Completely overrated. 1 stars
1/18/08 bullit16 Worth the hype! If you can stand the shaky cameras, it's one hell of a thrill ride 5 stars
1/18/08 Roy Romano This movie Sucked more than a blow job festival! It gave me hava a headache. 1 stars
1/18/08 Paul Kraker Worst movie I've ever seen - save your money!!!! 1 stars
1/18/08 Brant Best Scare I've had in a theater in a loooong time! Great Movie!! 5 stars
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  18-Jan-2008 (PG-13)
  DVD: 22-Apr-2008



Directed by
  Matt Reeves

Written by
  Drew Goddard

  Michael Stahl-David
  Odette Yustman
  Mike Vogel
  Lizzy Kaplan

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