OK, so it’s just another monster movie at heart — or Godzilla reimagined for the Big Apple — but Cloverfield is audaciously effective as “you are there” entertainment, mixing the handheld authenticity of the Blair Witch Project with enormous disaster-movie spectacle, as a huge, unnamed, mysterious creature lays waste to New York City.
Of course, the large video camera that a guy uses to chronicle his 20-something pal’s going-away party — and then The End of the World — seems as pertinent in today’s tiny phone-camera world as would those bulky old wireless phones from the ’80s. Say what? And OK, the plot is pretty basic: When disaster hits NYC, a guy frantically tries to rescue his sorta girlfriend and reach safety, and that’s about it. But along the way to (pick one) death, escape, redemption or becoming monster chow, this ride really rocks, especially given its wildly effective cinema verite approach and its fine cast of relative unknowns who convincingly inhabit their roles.
Too, the oblique nature of only seeing what a vid camera happens to catch works wonders. I mean, I’d rather spot a large building suddenly explode in the distance on the edge of a shot than seeing a closeup with some dude walking calmly away, one of today’s cheapest cliches. Better to discover something on your own than have it trivialized and served on a platter in closeup.
Then again, the coolest shot, beyond the Statue of Liberty’s head being used as a bowling ball, has very little CG at all. It’s when a driverless carriage and its white horse — the kind that often circle Central Park for a price — slowly clipclops down a Manhattan street now empty of traffic. Ghostly. Haunting. Cool. They even use the image for a DVD menu.
So forget all the hype and the teasing marketing campaign and get down to business. Check out Cloverfield — whatever that means — and witness an old-style monster movie with a refreshing stylistic twist. If you don’t live in Manhattan, you’ll be glad of it. If you do, well, sweet dreams.