Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown
It's "just" a monster movie, right?
No, it's the monster movie, the one that's been drowning in Internet hype a fan-driven mania prompted by pseudo-secretive viral marketing produced by the filmmakers. There's no way Cloverfield could possibly be worth the to-do. Could it?
Actually, now that I've seen Cloverfield, it's hard to imagine how anyone will top this. It's magnificent in its harsh reality. It's the monster movie remade for the 21st-century, post-9/11 world.
One might question whether we actually need a new kind of monster movie for the post-9/11 world. Indeed, there are moments here that induce a kind of 9/11 flashback, sights that we would have once considered to be ridiculous but now know to be all too real. Some viewers may want to avoid Cloverfield because of that.
But then there's something therapeutic in Cloverfield, too. Maybe it's the ridiculousness of the situation a giant thing is rampaging through Manhattan in a frenzy and how we see it, in small, intimate and believable glimpses.
It starts off like this: A gang of 20-something friends is sending their pal Rob (Michael Stahl-David) off to a job in Japan with a big party; their pal Hud (T.J. Miller) is documenting the party with a camcorder, gathering well-wishes for Rob from the partygoers. There's a bang, and the lights go out. It's funny, actually: The first 20 minutes or so of the film are given over to the party, and by 10 minutes in, you'll grumble that they should just get to the monster already.
Eventually, you're so caught up in the soap opera of romantic entanglements and whispered gossip keeping the party alive that when disaster finally strikes, it's genuinely startling.
The rest of the film hardly seems like a film at all: It feels like a found document, which this meta-story pretends it is. This videotape, a "military" placard tells us as the movie opens, was found in the area "formerly known as Central Park," and is now top-secret. We're not supposed to be seeing this.
Director Matt Reeves and screenwriter Drew Goddard (members of producer J.J. Abrams' TV teams from shows like Lost and Alias) have crafted a perfectly executed hoax. Everything the monster, the destruction of the city and other horrible, horrible things are seen through Hud's camcorder. We never leave the sides of Rob and Hud and a few of their friends. We like them. We recognize them. They're us.
And then we see the monster sort of. Mostly, we get glimpses of it as fear takes over Hud and he turns to run or drops the camera or whatever. He wants to document what he's seeing he's a child of the new millennium who knows people will want to see this. And what we see of the creature is so frustrating in a good, keep-you-in-suspense kind of way and so tantalizing that the whole film becomes endlessly engaging, if not always pleasantly.
By the time Cloverfield ends, you'll feel like you've been in the theater for hours, and not the film's 80-minute run-time. And yet it also feels like it goes by too fast. Cloverfield will rock you, leave you hungry for more and make you question whether you'll ever be able to sit through it again.
But you'll probably want to.