On the eve of a surprise party set for the departure of a callow New York yuppie taking off for Japan, his dim-bulb friend gets conscripted to tape the proceedings with what turns out to be the most durable hand-held video camera ever made. Because, after about 20 minutes of taping the soap-opera background of the party, the camera (and everyone in its lens) is put through the trials of one serious night of hell on Earth.
Cloverfield isn’t just a giant monster movie, it’s a date movie that happens to be about a monster taking down Manhattan. It delivers more than satisfactorily on both counts.
Of course, if one has an aversion to the increasingly popular shaky-cam school of cinematography, bring the Dramamine. Here the technique is very well-played, as Cloverfield uses the contents of the found tape to condense the events of the evening to a wonderfully efficient 77 minutes (not counting the tongue-in-cheek bombast of the end credits).
The approach is handled cleverly, with snippets of the prior contents of the tape ghosting through occasionally to underscore the subplot. A cast of relatively anonymous faces also aids the narrative immensely, with no baggage of a name star to distract from the proceedings.
Ultimately, the big hurdle for a lot of folks is going to be the filmmakers setting the monster mash in the culturally sacrosanct streets of Manhattan, with imagery that unabashedly evokes 9/11. In fact, visually and allegorically, Cloverfield is essentially “9/11: The Ride.” On the other hand, New York City is the only American city that would be the perfect setting for what plays out, with no quick exit and the concrete canyons that afford the filmmakers a reason to offer only quick glimpses of the rampaging beastie.
Be that as it may, it is nonetheless the monster movie that folks of these types of things have been waiting for since Godzilla rose from Tokyo Bay to serve as a fire-breathing metaphor for the American destruction of Hiroshima. Cloverfield is a wickedly efficient white-knuckle ride laced with understated humor that inarguably raises the bar for whatever giant monsters may follow.