Ever since viewing the first obscure preview for Cloverfield, I was interested in seeing the movie, if not just to figure out what exactly it is that is terrifying Manhattan island. Advertised as a fictional action-thriller, this film from producer J.J. Abrams was pitched to the public with a striking absence of details as to the plot. Something attacks New York, and the main characters are thrown into a desperate fight for their lives. As I found my lack of knowledge of the plot line to be central to my enjoyment of the movie (if it was a book, I wouldn’t have been able to flip the pages fast enough), this review won’t reveal anything of importance to the plot. Instead, it will focus on factors such as overall enjoyability, quality of suspense, and technical aspects.
Overall, I was impressed with this film. It lived up to its name as thriller; after it got going, there were very few relaxing moments in which to catch one’s breath. The entire experience was permeated by an air of delightful tension, and it was also shrouded with a degree of mystery. The film is shot from the perspective of the main characters. In fact, all the chaos is viewed through the often dirty lens of a digital camcorder that one of the characters carries. When disaster strikes, the audience has no more clue as to what’s happening, and is taken along for the bumpy ride as the characters struggle to survive. This is why it is essential to know nothing about the film when first viewing it–the fear of the unknown plays a key role here.
The acting in this film was superb. For a thriller, generally the only requirement of the actors is to run around screaming, but Cloverfield is different. The writer (Drew Goddard) made sure that the characters’ actions are motivated by a full range of emotions, not just fear. Love, friendship, and loyalty all play a part here, and the main cast does an admirable job of making it believable.
There isn’t much variety in terms of camera angles or shots. Everything is taken in the unsteady, rock-the-boat style of the handycam, and although this makes for a very intimate perspective, it was nauseating at first. For some people, the experience never got better and they ended up having to close their eyes and pass up entire scenes. So, if motion sickness is a problem for you, this might be a movie to skip, or at least take a pill for.
As with an increasing number of movies, good CGI is becoming easier to pull off with the advent of more powerful computers and more complex software. Cloverfield’s computer generated graphics are on par with what should be expected of a movie that relies heavily on CG.
Thankfully, the sound for this film didn’t sound like it came from the pathetic 1-channel microphone from a portable camera (although the effect might have worked in places). Cloverfield’s audio was just as the audio of any self-respecting action film should be: clear, with excellent separation between channels, and capable of producing deep booming bass for the action sequences.
Although some people might find this to be annoying, Cloverfield does a good job of keeping the audience guessing as to what is actually destroying Manhattan. The shots of the disaster are shaky and confused, as they would be in real life from the perspective of those people fleeing on the streets. The movie leaves one constantly hoping for more of a glimpse of whatever it is causing the problem. The film’s pacing tends to be rapid, but this is to be expected. In times there is a lot going on at once, and some finer details must be sacrificed for the speed of action that makes the film seem real.
Cloverfield is an intense, suspenseful thriller that starts out just as mysteriously as its name implies. The shaky camera can be a bit trying at times, but the overall effect of living in the chaos couldn’t be any better.