Matt Reeves

BY James KeastPublished Jan 17, 2008

Regardless of how one might feel about the experience of watching Cloverfield — a reaction that’s likely to include nausea due to the extremely shaky hand-held camera work — there’s no doubt that director Matt Reeves (along with producer J.J. Abrams) fully and admirably commits to the concept, even if it results in an ultimately unsatisfying film-going experience.

One night in lower Manhattan, a going away party is interrupted by explosions and the unceremonious depositing, in the middle of a downtown street, of the head of the Statue of Liberty, complete with bite marks. That sets off an "oh my god, run!” real-time chase through the streets and subway tunnels, as Manhattan is put under siege by a rampaging beastie of unknown origin. The 80 minutes of camcorder footage (found, we’re told at the beginning, in the remains of Central Park) are the entirety of the narrative — what the camera sees is what we see, so if it doesn’t capture much in the way of character or clear-eyed shots of the monster or the overwhelming military response to it, well, tough luck.

The script by Drew Goddard (geeky staff writer for Lost, Alias, Buffy and Angel) stays firm on the lo-fi high concept, and to its credit, the film never succumbs to our thirst for more information. With very little exposition, we only know what our fleeing victims know — and that’s run, fast, far and watch out behind you.

Unfortunately, what’s admirable about this high-concept commitment is unsatisfying as a film-going experience. Characters remain "drunk at a party” thin; death scenes are almost always blurry and under-explained; and the nature of the narrative means no narrative at all. This Godzilla Witch Project approach works to a point but in the end, it comes off as the foundation for a great movie — using found footage to explore the whys and hows of such a monster attack — but on its own remains incomplete.

That’s the point, I get it, but admirable is not synonymous with entertaining. Great job on all the technical aspects guys — particularly integrating what must be massive amounts of CGI effects into hand-held footage — but it’s just not enough to be considered a whole movie.
(Paramount Pictures)

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