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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
dir Matt Reeves
scr Drew Goddard
with Mike Vogel, Michael Stahl-David, Jessica Lucas, Odette Yustman, Lizzy Caplan, TJ Miller, Anjul Nigam, Margot Farley, Theo Rossi, Brian Klugman, Kelvin Yu, Ben Feldman
release US 18.Jan.08, UK 1.Feb.08
08/US Paramount 1h25
Mind-boggling: Stahl-David, Caplan and Lucas (above); and earlier that night: Vogel, Miller and Stahl-David (below)
Even if there's nothing new going on here, the style and quality of this film injects a terrific sense of terror into the old monster movie formula.
We're watching a videotape found after a devastating incident in Manhattan that's been codenamed "Cloverfield". We see the young couple Rob and Beth (Stahl-David and Yustman) on an idyllic morning, then cut to a party a month later bidding farewell as Rob heads off to a new job in Japan. But just after midnight, the party is interrupted by the arrival of a massive creature on the streets, and Rob hits the streets with a handful of friends looking for a way out. Once they rescue Beth.
The overwhelming familiarity of the premise is actually rather clever, with the Godzilla-style destruction of New York filmed Blair Witch-style on home video. This makes the film look deceptively rough and cheap, when it's actually skilfully (and expensively) designed, with excellent effects that feel disarmingly offhanded and a strong cast that delivers its dialog and sprints through each scene as if it's all improv. As a result, we are thrown right into the story, and the scary bits actually make us jump and squirm in our seats.
There's not much more to it than that, although there are strong echoes of 9/11, plus a pointed jab at American military policy willing to lay waste to the city just to kill the marauding beast. And the double-layer videotape adds an emotional element as we see glimpses Rob and Beth's much happier day every time the camera stops filming. These touches, as well as the general urgency of the pace, help overcome the corny and contrived opening set-up sequences.
But it's the film's technical prowess that's the most impressive, as the staggering scope of events is captured in handheld footage that contains several big jolts and some truly haunting imagery. The sheer relentless horror of the story is thoroughly gripping, and the raucous chaos keeps us entertained right to the head-spinning finale. So in the end, if it's not much more than a guilty pleasure, that's fine with us. Just let us get back to our relatively quiet lives in a world where these kinds of things can't happen. Right?
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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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