Movie News & Reviews

Chaotic "Cloverfield" will grow Miller into a star

Remember Snakes on a Plane?

No you don't. Nobody does. That's their karmic payback foroverhyping a third-rate script with one good line and a few cooldeath-by-snakes.

Oh, sure, their financial payback resulted in wallets so thick they can't sit down, and we still have that secondInternet they had to build when the first one imploded after atwo-month nerdgasm of purple lightsaber jokes and arguments about whowould win a fight, Samuel L., or the sun if the sun also had a pipewrench, but as for the movie, it's long gone, lost to that netherworldwhere weak-ass movies go to die.

Yeah, that's what you get when you hype a movie to death. Filthy,stinking rich. But also, and significantly less importantly, you geta film that almost can't match up to what's been built in ourimaginations. It's been a while since I took physics -- my whole life,actually -- but I think that's the eighth law of thermodynamics. As thetalk around a movie reaches infinity, so does the chance it'll end updisappointing.

Cloverfield, courtesy of producer J.J. Abrams (the dude behindLost), had a different kind of marketing hype: all kinds ofWeb sites, brain-teasing trailers that never showed a damn thing, etc.We didn't even know its name until what, a month or two ago. Fun, inits way, yet also the kind of thing that made plenty of people sick ofthe movie before they'd even seen it, self included. That's a bighole to dig yourself out of.

Cloverfield starts slow, easing into a surprise party for MichaelStahl-David (who's about to move from Manhattan to Japan) thrown byhis brother Mike Vogel and Vogel's girlfriend, Jessica Lucas. Prettybumping affair; they even convince buddy T.J. Miller to film it soStahl-David will be able to relive it once he's on the other side ofthe world.

Stahl-David's good times become bad times when Odette Yustman showsup, a girl he's had his heart on since college and now might not seeagain for years. After arguing with her, he retreats to a balcony tobe consoled by his friends -- and that's when the city gets hit.

Part of the brilliance of Cloverfield is how naturally it revealswhat's attacking NYC and what that means for its characters. Shownentirely through the view of Miller's camera, the swift descent fromthe initial shock into panic, confusion, and total disaster -- as far asit's possible to know these things, it all feels incredibly real.

When stuff gets serious, they don't have time to process what'shappening when their friends are dying. They're not even thinking offighting back, either. It's all about getting themselves and eachother out alive.

Which, given the scope of what's going on, isn't no walk in the park.Wrecking-real-places-up-in-computerland technology has gottenoutstanding these days, and when the buildings start falling, stuffstarts exploding, and the army begins battling the threat, it'sflat-out terrifying. Like, the kind of thrilling, queasy, gut-level,"better slump down in your seat because your hair is raised so high theguy behind you won't be able to see" level of terror.

All aided by the shaky first-person camera, the smart jump-cuts, thedetails that can't help but evoke 9/11. Some people (especially NewYork critics) have booed it for that, calling it exploitive, ordisaster-porn. Yeah, I was a little creeped out by the dusty peoplewandering around in a daze as structures fell down. As somebody whowas living in New York at the time, for whatever that's worth, theparallels stopped bugging me after about two minutes intoCloverfield's destruction. The movie was just too sympathetic tothe characters and what they were going through to be exploitive. Ifanything, it was cathartic.

That's in part because everyone involved (including director MattReeves and writer Drew Goddard) are relative unknowns, with plenty ofTV work in their bios but not much cinematic exposure, and that addsto the ground-level realism. Among the cast, Miller might be the onewho breaks out in a hurry. As the man behind the camera, hisface-time is at a minimum, but he's funny, dopily charming in a waythat humanizes the sadness underlying all the spectacle.

Cloverfield doesn't have much of a setup or frame story around it,and so its ending can't help feeling a little abrupt. Stripped of theusual exposition, it's short, too -- something like 75 minutes, notcounting credits. But it makes the most of every moment. Immediate,immersive, and the scariest thing since The Descent, it lives up tojust about anything you'd expected it to be.

Grade: A-