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Cloverfield (2008)


We should have seen this coming. Team Cloverfield dropped more than enough hints suggesting they knew what they were doing, from the inspired viral marketing campaign to the seeds of a deeper mythology planted on message boards. But with hype meters peaking, cautiously optimistic fanboys willing to entertain the notion that a good movie could be released in January sharpened swords for a potential backlash.

With apologies to Public Enemy, believe the hype. Cloverfield director Matt Reeves has created an abnormality, a visceral monster movie that doesn’t overly concern itself with its actual monster. The filmmaker certainly doesn’t go out of his way to show his beast. Not because he doesn’t want to, but because he can’t. That’s not the movie he decided to tell.

Instead, the Cloverfield collective — which includes Reeves, producer J.J. Abrams (Lost), and writer Drew Goddard (Alias) — focuses on a rescue mission to drive their skeletal plot. It is conducted by four urban prepsters who begin the evening attending a harmless surprise party for the affable Rob (Michael Stahl-David), who is leaving New York the next morning to accept a promotion overseas. But the group eventually risks life and limb to reach a friend (Odette Yustman) trapped in her apartment after a reptilian creature emerges without warning from the Hudson River and wrecks havoc on the Lower East Side.

The experiment is ingenious. The results, though, can be frustrating because Reeves stays commendably focused on his goal. Where other filmmakers might have been tempted to cut away from the leads and sneak full-fledged peeks at the creature, Reeves commits to his premise and finds fresh ways to draw familiar conceits (hysterical crowds, massive explosions, a requisite military presence) into his story.

Cloverfield isn’t perfect, and nitpickers will find enough to, well, pick. The film’s narrow-minded approach leaves numerous questions regarding the monster unanswered. Where did it come from? What happens if you get bit by the creature (or one of its offspring)? Goddard also attaches too many false endings to the story. Cloverfield is one tight ending shy of being a modern monster masterpiece.

It’s hardly an exaggeration to claim Cloverfield marks a milestone in contemporary filmmaking, a pinprick that systematically deflates the traditional, overblown, special-effects extravaganzas we equate with our summer season. Reeves’ film appeals directly to the maturing YouTube generation without pandering. It wisely understands that its primary audience, weaned on handheld paparazzi footage and reality television, will be far more impressed by footage they believe they themselves could have captured using a cell phone than any big-budget effect.

The DVD includes copious extras: Additional scenes, two alternate endings (not terribly different than what was put on film), outtakes, a commentary track from Reeves, and tons of making-of featurettes.

Killer smurfs!