Despite how I feel about his last summer epic, J.J. Abrams is still a solid guy in my book. I never got into "Lost," but he produced the very popular TV show. He's got a great thing going with the Star Trek franchise reboot, too. I would put the reboot higher than almost every film in the series. Only Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan rates out higher for me. I see he's got a Cloverfield sequel in development, so we'll see more of Clover the monster in the near future. In sum, I think Abrams has the potential to reach Jerry Bruckheimer level in terms of Hollywood executives.
I don't know why I missed this film until now. I guess it just slipped through the cracks. I like the cinéma vérité that Cloverfield features. You also get this found-footage premise with such films as The Blair Witch Project, [Rec], Paranormal Activity, and others. I always manage to suspend my disbelief and go wherever the story takes me, if the story's good enough.
The first 18 minutes of the film introduce us to Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David), a successful young white-collar businessman, and his semi-charmed life of fabulous Manhattan jet-setter friends. This is the film's weakest point, one in which they spend almost too much time building characters that the audience is generally unable to identify with, let alone care about once the action begins. We get a point of attack surrounding Rob's friend, Beth McIntyre (Odette Annable). We find out Rob's going to Japan to continue his epic work career, and things are tense between him and Beth, who brings a guy Rob doesn't know (Travis, played by Ben Feldman) to Rob's going-away party.
As soon as the lights flicker, a distant explosion is heard, and the party heads to the apartment building's roof to see what's going on, that's when this film takes off. We quickly forget Drew Goddard's shallow characters and wonder along with them, just what the fuck is going on uptown? And then, holy shit, fireballs!! The crowd panics, and everyone rushes to the street, only to almost get flattened by ... the head of the Statue of Liberty! Director Matt Reeves did a grrrreat job with the special effects. In general, after the scene with Liberty's head, Reeves did a fantastic job with pacing and action. From there, you're never left wanting in Cloverfield.
We get our 2nd act when Rob gets a call from Beth, who tells him she's pinned down in her father's apartment near Central Park. A small band of Rob's friends, including Hud (T.J. Miller), Lily (Jessica Lucas), and Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) follow Rob on his crazy quest to go to her, which also happens to take them directly in the path of the rampaging monster.
Featured: Clover the Monster.
This monster is huuuuge. In reading about the film, I found out that the creators of Cloverfield intended the monster (nicknamed "Clover") to be an infant. So this thing is not only gigantic, but it's a baby ... and its shrieks and thrashes are not born out of hate, but fear, confusion, and anxiety. It makes, predictably, a big mess of Manhattan, leveling more than its share of buildings, along with the military, who in their aim to down the beast, also hit Manhattan's skyscrapers with stray ordnance. Reeves uses the trick made popular with Spielberg in Jaws. We only see a bit of Clover at first, are surprised by its secondary menace, big-dog-sized parasites that have a lethal bite, and only toward the end do we get a good long look at Clover. The monster, in my opinion, was well-done, managing to draw some fear out of me, despite my hardened experience with countless monsters from many other sci-fi and horror films. Clover and his parasitic friends provide the bulk of the conflict for Rob achieving his goal, and if it's not for lucky door slams and timely retreats, Clover and friends would have quickly and easily ravaged Rob's party.
3rd act begins after Rob successfully frees Beth. Then it becomes a race to get to safety, as the military has told them that by 6 AM, they're going to carry out Operation Hammer Down (destroying all of Manhattan with heavy bombing) if they can't bring down the monster. Sure enough, by early morning, Clover's still going strong, and Rob's party has very little time to head back to a military outpost for airlift out of harm's way. Ultimately, Lily is the only one who survives. She gets lifted out in a separate helicopter. Marlena dies earlier; the bite of the parasites is toxic, and her head explodes off-camera, Scanners-style. The helicopter carrying Hud, Rob, and Beth gets swatted by Clover, and they crash-land in Central Park. Hud gets eaten by Clover. We see at the end of the found footage that Rob and Beth are annihilated in Central Park with the dropping of the bombs.
Cloverfield is a tight little film, ringing in at 85 total minutes. It's not for everyone; anyone who hates those films that declare found footage in an alternate reality, or films that portray the footage as real, well, this one's not going to change your general regard for this type of story. I admit that I almost shut off the movie in the beginning. The setting and the characters didn't rub me the right way. I started to make that emotional connection to them only after Goddard planted the idea that Rob and Beth really love each other, but they're being too shy and awkward about showing it. I'm also not a big fan of big monsters. Godzilla and King Kong are cool, but I can take them or leave them. Neither big baddie has managed to scare me as much as Clover did, either, so while Cloverfield might not be entirely original, it certainly improves the big-monster subsection of the sci-fi/horror genre. I'm happy with this film.