MOVIE REVIEW ★★★ 1/2 Monsters Take Manhattan

‘Cloverfield’ Shows Attack a la ‘Blair Witch’

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Rob (played by Michael Stahl-David, left) and Beth (Odette Yustman, right) are terrorized by a monstrous creature in “Cloverfield.”
Sam Emerson—Paramount Pictures


Directed by Matt Reeves

Written by Drew Goddard

Starring: Michael Stahl-David, T.J. Miller, Lizzy Caplan, and Odette Yustman

Rated PG-13

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The first thing you’ve probably noticed upon watching the various trailers and previews for “Cloverfield” is that the movie is shot as though it is being recorded by a personal camcorder. Luckily, this gimmick (which you probably remember from “The Blair Witch Project”) is not the only thing the movie has going for it.

“Cloverfield” was directed by Matt Reeves and written by Drew Goddard, but the movie is in actuality the brainchild of J.J. Abrams. Abrams is best known as the high-adrenaline director of “Mission: Impossible III” and the upcoming “Star Trek” remake, as well as executive producer of the critically adored television hits “Alias” and “Lost.” Anyone familiar with his body of work knows Abrams has a flare for the supernatural, over-the-top, sci-fi extravaganza. This movie is no exception, diving deep into this same genre. The larger budget provided, however, gives him endless creative possibilities, and needless to say his imagination was running wild when he thought of this story.

The movie follows the adventures of five friends — led by Rob Hawkins (played by Michael Stahl-David) — as they try to survive the onslaught of a monster attack on Manhattan. The movie starts off with Rob’s friends throwing him a going away party as he is scheduled to take a job in Japan. Amidst conflict at the party as a result of the appearance of Rob’s love interest, Beth McIntyre (Odette Yustman), the party is abruptly interrupted by the monster’s initial foray into New York. For the remainder of the movie, Rob’s best friend, Hud Platt (T.J. Miller), records the attack on a camcorder he conveniently had on hand for the goodbye party.

Thus, the chaos ensues with Hud giving his personal expletives for the attacks in each scene.

The level of suspense and tension in “Cloverfield” is maintained throughout. After the initial attack, the pace of the movie seldom slows for the viewer to take a breath. It authentically creates a level of fear seldom seen even in most of today’s scariest horror movies. This is probably due to the combination of the first-person-style view given as well as the atmosphere created by the devastation in New York. The special effects are as epic as any seen in most summer movie blockbusters and the movie pulls out all the stops to make moviegoers’ jaws drop on as many occasions as possible. (Sights and sounds include the head of the Statue of Liberty landing like a meteor on a Manhattan street and army missiles zooming directly above the main characters’ heads to topple buildings.) Furthermore, CGI and outlandish plot aside, the realistic characters in this story somehow keep this movie afloat and believable despite the premise.

Although the movie will inevitably leave viewers a bit dizzy (sometimes there is way too much motion) and with a few questions typical of any J.J. Abrams experiment, qualms should be easily forgiven as the entertainment value of “Cloverfield” far exceeds most movies of recent memory. Even though the year is just beginning, this movie will most likely still stand as one of the best thrill rides 2008 had to offer come December.