I just saw Cloverfield.
Wow. Just...wow. Don't let the glib title of my post fool you: this movie makes an impact.
For those who don't know, it was directed by J.J. Abrams, creator of “Alias” and “Lost”, who has also recently taken on the Mission: Impossible and Star Trek franchises. It is the story of a group of Manhattanite friends throwing a going-away party for one of their own...only to be interrupted by a monster that rises from the ocean and devastates the city.
Much has been made already of the style of this film. The monster is shown only in glimpses at first, and even after that, gets a minimum of screen time. The entire movie is shot from one digital camera, originally intended to record the party. This does prove quite effective. Likewise, the origin of the monster is left ambiguous, and there area a few incidents where it remains deliberately unclear what exactly happened.
On the other hand, the jerking and swinging of the camera bothered me more than it did with The Blair Witch project. It seemed me to that Hud, the cameraman for most of the movie, goes back and forth between amateurish shooting (cutting off the top of people's heads) and professional grade (sweeping shots of the Brooklyn Bridge). The idea that he filmed so much and that the tape survived strains credibility.
The cast are not so well-known that it is distracting. I like that. Just based on my brief experience there, I thought the characters look and act like New York. Many small details help evoke the essence of the city. I think it says something that the public accepts a movie this iconoclastic. Perhaps we're finally moving into a post-post-9/11 world.
Then, of course, there is my Lilith complex. I always have sympathy for the monster. Not people who act like monsters, but actual monsters...especially kaiju. They don't know any other way to be. They monst. It's what they do—cut them a break! While I was rooting for the human heroes, I must confess a twinge as fighter planes harried the “horrible thing”. My sympathies did not, however, extend to the smaller horrors it brought up with it.
Early on, one character advises another: “forget the world...cling to the people you care about” (paraphrase). This movie does leave you with a lot to consider. Who would you risk your life for if this happened ? At what point are the odds of saving them just to low? What would you do in an emergency—run or go to ground?
The medium itself, I believe, is the message: moments in time, frozen as ones and zeroes...panic and suffering, poignantly intercut with literal flashbacks to happier times. Some days are good. Others...just aren't. We've seen the subject matter before--Cloverfield owes as much to The Children of Men as to Godzilla; but Abrams' innovative take makes for a gripping ride.