There was a while when I thought that CLOVERFIELD might turn out to be another SNAKES ON A PLANE; that it would turn out to be a success of clever, inspired marketing and audience-teasing, leading up to a big pile of nothing. Ever since the cryptic teaser debuted in front of TRANSFORMERS last summer, the speculation as to what exactly CLOVERFIELD was all about has been running wild. Movie websites were abuzz with rumors and ideas; the filmmakers and marketing team created a viral marketing campaign that rivaled the efforts of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, giving out small bits of info but withholding all crucial information. But would the film live up to the hype? For me it did. Big time. CLOVERFIELD heralds the return of the monster movie, and demonstrates that a group of creative filmmakers can make an epic, exciting action film on a limited budget ($25 million is the number being thrown around) and with no major stars (the cast is a bunch of unknowns, for now at least). The team of producer JJ Abrams, writer Drew Goddard, and director Matt Reeves have tapped into the current, tech-savvy, twenty-something mindset and given moviegoers the chance to return to one of the oldest genres, this time with a fresh, visceral twist.
If you’ve seen the ads, you basically know what to expect. A monster has emerged from the waters just off of New York City and is extremely irritated. We don’t know where it came from. We don’t know why it’s here. We don’t know anything at all except that it’s torn off the head of the Statue of Liberty and used it as a bowling ball; NYC’s skyscrapers are the pins. But to up the ante, CLOVERFIELD resembles a home video. On the night of the monsters attach, we’re introduced to a group of good-looking, successful young adults at a going-away party for a guy named Rob (Michael Stahl-David). Rob is headed to Japan (ha-ha) to work as some sort of Vice President; it’s not important. His brother Jason (Mike Vogel) asks their likable friend Hud (T.J. Miller) to record a series of good-byes from all of Rob’s friends. Meanwhile, Rob’s ex-flame Beth (Odette Yustman) shows up at the party with a new boyfriend, much to Rob’s chagrin. Hud hits on the pretty Marlena (Lizzy Chapman) but with little luck. But before anyone has enough time to throw back their third drink of the night, a deafening boom is heard and power goes out for a split second. They head up to the roof of the apartment complex and are witness to a second massive explosion which sends flaming debris towards them and the rest of the city. Hud keeps filming, and essentially never stops for the next 65 minutes.
CLOVERFIELD is, at its heart, a goofy B-movie from the 50’s, souped up with modern technology and playing off of the smarts of well-movie-educated audiences. Our group of characters runs through a flaming cityscape that recalls both 9/11 (the image of a city street engulfed with smoke and debris is eerie to see) and every disaster movie since the dawn of celluloid. It’s all incredibly outlandish and completely preposterous at times…but you know what…it’s a monster movie! Suspension of disbelief is required virtually every time you venture into a movie theater; with CLOVERFIELD, however, some people might need a crane. But what separated CLOVERFIELD from almost all of the other movies in this genre was its execution. The viewer is never ahead of the characters; whatever info the characters have, the audience has. The “this-is-happening-now-and-you-are-in-the-middle-of-it” quality that CLOVERFIELD possess is as much inspired by the aesthetic of Paul Greengrass as it is of a young Steven Spielberg. There is a wide-eyed awe that accompanies many of the scenes, both for the characters and for the audience. The gritty, hand-held shooting style will make some people sick; others, like me, will love it. Abrams and Goddard are both two of the masterminds behind the television show LOST, and the influence of that show can be felt at numerous times during CLOVERFIELD. Reeves, a director whose credits include episodes of Abrams’ FELICITY and the romantic comedy THE PALLBEARER, immediately catapults himself to the top of the list of upcoming filmmakers. I was simply not prepared for the intensity, the thrills, and the nihilistic pulse that this film has, and I credit Reeves for never backing down at any point. It’s like BLACK HAWK DOWN meets GODZILLA mixed with a little pinch of angel dust.
I have purposefully avoided discussing many of the specific scenes of monster-rampage-destruction, the design of the monster itself, and the fate of the various characters. One sequence, involving a semi-collapsed apartment high-rise, gave me vertigo (in a good way). But here I am, starting to get into specifics. I don’t want to be a spoil-sport; you should discover this film for yourself. CLOVERFIELD is a breathless action film that runs under 90 minutes; even the most ADD-afflicted moviegoer won’t be checking their watch. I loved this film. And it could have easily been a massive disappointment. I loved its intent, its desires, its style, and its attitude. Just when you thought that nobody could ever make a monster movie scary or exciting again, Abrams, Goddard, and Reeves sucker punch that smile off your face and have delivered an awesome movie to kick off the New Year.