First, a bit of disclosure: I was hired to do some creative writing for the Blu-ray release of Cloverfield. Working on the disc and thus having to study Cloverfield's filmmaking process intensely, I wound up liking the film a lot – much more, perhaps, than I might have if I'd seen it in a theater, where I wouldn't have had the time to investigate what appear to be plot holes or logistics problems (but aren't) – and I'm very impressed with the level of authenticity and detail displayed by the filmmakers. Producer J.J. Abrams is the star attraction, but he's not just a figurehead: he has been friends with screenwriter Drew Goddard and director Matt Reeves since childhood. This film is their shared vision.
Cloverfield concerns itself with a giant monster wreaking havoc in Manhattan, shot entirely from a home video camera held by a member of a small group of twentysomethings surrounded by the melee. It's The Blair Witch Project meets Godzilla, just like everybody's been saying. But what satisfies is that this isn't just another Hollywood remake of a successful old monster movie (King Kong, et al) but something actually original. A new and mysterious monster and a fresh take on a beloved, if shopworn, movie genre.
The actors may not be remarkable (the darkly appealing Lizzy Caplan stands out), but they are serviceable – and it's nice to see a studio film with actual leading ladies, after 2007 gave us nothing but guys, guys, guys (and Juno).
Cloverfield isn't a great film, but it's an intense rollercoaster-ish experience – and that's not just a metaphor; watching the movie feels very much like being on a scary, well-executed ride at Disneyland. There is a story, but it is a mere clothesline on which the filmmakers hang plenty of thrills and spills. And like an amusement park ride, the handheld camera and frantic pace may make you a little dizzy. But it's clever, it feels new, and its many images of metropolitan destruction, filled with echoes of 9/11, continue to creep me out. I don't believe in giant monsters, but I sure am scared by the notion of my city being torn apart around me.