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Cloverfield (2008)
Director: Matt Reeves

review by Alasdair Stuart

After months of hype and speculation, Cloverfield finally opens and the end result is a film that is both fiercely unique and remarkably old fashioned. The first thing we see confirms this; a series of title cards revealing that this footage was discovered in US 447, an area "formerly known as Central Park" and concerns "multiple sightings of case designate: Cloverfield." The message is clear; something awful has happened and we get to watch it without having to worry about it. The distance you so commonly get with films is still there, still in place.

Until the film begins and the first thing you see is the point of view of Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David) filming his girlfriend Beth (Odette Yustman) waking up after they've slept together for the first time. This footage is simple, open, remarkably genuine looking, with Stahl-David and Yustman, capturing the right combination of tender and awkward to make the moment feel real.

And then we're somewhere else, watching Rob's brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and his girlfriend Lilly (Jessica Lucas) argue over who gets to film Rob's going away party. Finally, Jason gives the camera to Rob's best friend Hud (T.J. Miller) and we begin to learn a little more. A month has passed; Rob's going to Japan to start a new job and something went very wrong with Beth. The first 15 minutes of the film are used to set this situation up, and are nicely clumsy and human in the way that videos like this often are. We get as many shots of the floor as we do of people and Hud's charmingly inept attempts to chat up Marlena (the excellent Lizzy Caplan) take up most of it. Until, overhearing an argument between Rob and Beth, Hud goes out on the fire escape to talk to him. And something shakes New York.

From there it's the material we've already seen: the Statue of Liberty's head being hurled down the street, the devastation, the sudden appearance of the military. But after a while, two things become clear; firstly that this is a unique perspective on a very old story and secondly that no one, and nowhere, is safe.

The first point is driven home constantly as Rob, Lilly, Hud and Marlena make their way across the city to try and rescue Beth from her damaged building. There are sequences that are beautiful, New York bathed in yellow sodium light and completely deserted apart from the four. Then, seconds later, these scenes are shattered as the military arrives, the monster appears from out of nowhere and all hell breaks loose. The best example of this comes in the second half of the film, as their journey through the subway takes a horrific turn and, with Beth finally in tow, they make a run for the last helicopter out of the city. As Hud sprints down the street, he turns to the left and the monster is there, one block over. The effect is startling, like seeing a normal monster movie - but just to the left, and will infuriate as many as it entrances. There are no answers here, no square-jawed heroes. Just four people trying to get out of a situation they cannot hope to understand and may not survive.

The second point is driven home throughout the film as characters are killed almost constantly and at entirely arbitrary moments. Again the normality of the characters is emphasised here, with Hud in particular reacting to some of the losses in a very normal and remarkably un-film like manner. This is where the cast, who have been unfairly pilloried as nothing more than a collection of Abercrombie and Fitch models, come into their own. Miller's amiable, slightly dim Hud is a fine narrator, Stahl-David's Rob is a earnest, flawed and all the more heroic for that whilst Lucas' Lilly is that most difficult of characters; a normal, grounded young woman who somehow still manages to be interesting. Likewise Caplan as the wonderfully spiky Marlena is a stand out and her scenes with Hud are particularly affecting.

Cloverfield is 84 minutes long and they are some of the most intense time you'll spend in the cinema this year. The film isn't without flaws but Drew Goddard's incredibly tight script and Matt Reeves' innovative direction drag you into the story and refuse to let go. You won't feel safe, but you will be entertained.
Cloverfield poster

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