Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


CLOVERFIELD (2008). Director: Matt Reeves. NOTE: Great Old Movies will occasionally review a new or recent film if it may be of interest to our readers and/or belongs to a venerable old genre, such as -- in this case -- the monster movie.

A bunch of young people are partying -- this opening sequence goes on for about twenty minutes and is a snooze, like watching bad home movies of somebody else's party -- when they hear a tremendous BOOM and rush outside to their Manhattan Street and see the head of the Statue of Liberty rolling by. They learn that a tremendous unknown animal of Godzillian proportions is tearing up Manhattan, and for the next 70 or so minutes several of them simply try to survive as building's crash, bridges collapse (with one swipe of the creature's tail) and skittering, man-sized parasites that drop off the monster invade the subways and attack them. Cloverfield is not a campy, often comical movie like the American-made Godzilla with Matthew Broderick (whose trailer promised the intense, frightening experience it failed to deliver but Cloverfield does) but a scary, harrowing, absorbing -- and ultimately depressing -- experience. No, it's not Citizen Kane, but for what it is it works.

The gimmick of the movie -- written by Drew Goddard -- is that virtually everything is seen through one of the character's video cameras, a device (borrowed from The Blair Witch) that is irritating at first but works fine once you get used to it, increasing the sense of terror and chaos. (Although it must be said that a more traditional approach might have worked just as well. And that the video approach only creates a tasteless parallel to 9/11.) The purpose of the movie is to show exactly how it might feel to be a tiny, helpless human being in a city that is actually being invaded and demolished by a gargantuan creature that the Army can't seem to stop, a creature so huge that it can swing about and be practically on top of you whereas only moments before it was blocks away. Cloverfield is very good at getting across the panic and unsettling paranoia this would cause.

The movie tells us little about the creature itself, which is glimpsed in sections and by stages until we get a better look at it -- a bug-eyed cross between preying mantis, shark, lizard,
and a kind of stretching Gumby -- near the end. On one of the "extra" featurettes on the DVD we're told that the 300 foot tall monster is actually a newly-hatched baby, but whether it's a biological terrorist weapon, escaped from a U.S. lab, or came from outer space is never revealed, although the fact that "Cloverfield" is the name of an operation of some sort should give you a clue.

The cast of young, mostly unknown actors is more than competent in getting across their confused and petrified feelings, and whether you have a fear of heights, enclosed spaces, bugs, or bug-eyed monsters, Cloverfield will probably push one of your buttons. If there's any problem with the movie it's that although Cloverfield is entertaining and well-made and features some excellent FX work, it's probably too disturbing to be much fun.

Verdict: Monster lovers should see it; others may be unimpressed. ***.

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