Rating 2¾

Directed by Matt Reeves

Written by Drew Goddard

Starring Michael Stahl-David (Rob Hawkins), Mike Vogel (Jason Hawkins), T J Miller (Hudson Platt), Odette Yustman (Beth McIntyre), Lizzy Caplan (Marlena Diamond), Jessica Lucas (Lily Ford) and Ben Feldman (Travis)

A surprise going away party is arranged for Rob Hawkins, who is about to leave Manhattan to take up a new job in Japan. His brother Jason persuades their friend Hud Platt to use a camera to film testimonials to Rob given by party guests. The party begins to sour when Beth McIntyre, who Rob has recently slept with, arrives with a new boyfriend, and it is then disrupted by what appears to have been an earthquake. When the guests go up onto the roof they discover that vast areas of Manhattan are ablaze and when they go out onto the street below they are nearly killed when the decapitated head of the Statue of Liberty comes crashing down just metres from them. Manhattan is under attack from a monstrous alien creature.


I missed out on most of the early hype that surrounded ‘Cloverfield’ before its theatrical release at the beginning of 2008. I don’t recall exactly when I became aware of it, but what caught my attention initially was that it had been written by Drew Goddard, who had contributed episodes to the seventh and final season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Even so, by the time the film arrived in Britain I had been put off by the hype and although I remained interested to see it, I was not convinced that I could sit through a film made to look like everything had been shot through a shaky hand-held camera. It has taken me more than two years to finally get around to watching it.

The lengthy opening, in which we learn but don’t care that Rob has slept with his friend Beth and now a month later a party is being thrown in his honour before he departs for Japan, is not interesting enough to be diverting. It merely served to make me impatient and question whether or not I wanted to sit through this film. It doesn’t help that the characters struggle to leave any lasting impression. Because the film did not hold my attention enough in the opening scenes I kept confusing Rob and his brother Jason. Hud was only distinguishable because he was the one behind the camera – and because he was rather annoying. At least I recognised the actress Lizzy Caplan, who I had seen before in ‘Mean Girls’ and ‘Tru Blood’.

The concept is an interesting one and it is achieved with some skill and success. Some people consider it to be a brilliant and adventurous work at a time when the industry, Hollywood specifically, is in a state of dire creative doldrums. I would not go that far. The film is clearly drawing on ‘The Blair Witch Project’ and cinéma vérité is hardly a new approach to film making. The shaky hand-held camera proved not to be as annoying as I feared it might be, but there were times when I wished we could have another view and perhaps a bit more characterisation. Having said that, the plight of these nondescript people caught in an entirely inexplicable situation and doing something that defies logic, which they themselves capture on film more of less accidently, is quite effective and could have been quite affecting.

A question I repeatedly asked myself was why Hud kept on filming, when clearly he would have a greater chance of escaping the clutches of the monster if he wasn’t hindered by having a camera on his shoulder. This was explained to some degree at one point in the film, but not in a way that I felt was altogether convincing. I found the monster disappointing. It was a lot more “Aliens” than I was expecting, having read review after review that made reference to ‘Godzilla’. As Xander said about the 1998 ‘Godzilla’ remake in the Buffy episode ‘Dirty Girls’, which was, incidentally, written by Drew Goddard, “Matthew Broderick did not kill Godzilla. He killed a big, dumb lizard. That was not the real Godzilla.”

I like the fact that no explanation is ever offered for what is happening, but I was quite glad to see the end arrive. The film, at least, has a relatively short running time and does not outstay its welcome. It’s a good film, no doubt, but one that will probably be enjoyed a lot more by some people than others.

‘Cloverfield’ has a 76% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes from 190 reviews. It grossed a little under $171 million at the box office against a production budget of $25 million. There has been some talk about a sequel.

Review posted 5 June 2010


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