"Knight Thoughts" - exclusive web content
A simple marketing campaign (a total black out of information) pays off in chills and thrills in a devilishly effective update of the
monster in Manhattan movie, Chicagoan Michael Stahl-David, Cloverfield's star, during a momentary lull in the terrifying action
Cinéma Vérité Godzilla:
1-18-08 "Knight Thoughts" web exclusive review
By Richard Knight, Jr.
One thought above all kept coming back to me as I lay strapped in for the thrill ride that is director Jim Reeves’ and producer J.J.
Abrams’ Cloverfield: Hitchcock would have loved this. If for nothing else than for the ingenuous decision to shoot the movie within
specific constraints as Hitchcock did in Lifeboat, Rope and Rear Window. Here, the entire movie is shot by one handheld digital camera
(though, apparently, different levels of these were employed). Though the movie played hell with my vertigo, this brilliant little idea
has the effect of transforming the typical monster attacks Manhattan movie into nothing less than an instant classic of the genre.
It's gimmicky, alright, but one that works on thrill hungry audiences like a triple espresso of terror. This delightfully squeamish
movie experience, a cinéma vérité Godzilla if you will, is twice the fun of The Blair Witch Project, and somewhere between Alien and
Jurassic Park. Like the reaction I had to those last two movies and the Tower of Terror at Disney World I can’t wait to take the
Cloverfield ride again.
The set up for Cloverfield is simplicity itself – Rob (Chicagoan Michael Stahl-David), a young Manhattanite is heading off to a new life
and a new job in Japan. He’s given a surprise going away party by his brother Jason (Mike Vogel), Jason’s girlfriend (Jessica Lucas),
his best friend Hud (T.J. Miller), and a loft filled with pretty young things clutching beers in one hand and i-phones in the other. Hud,
who to be kind is a bit thin in the brainpan area, is roped into videotaping the party. He gravitates toward Marlena (Lizzy Diamond)
a young actress he has the hots for. During the party it comes out that Rob has unfinished business with Beth (Odette Yustman).
But before anything can be resolved – and just when your tolerance for this not particularly heartwarming group is at the breaking
point – hazy reports of a capsized tanker send the party goers first to the roof and then to the street to see what’s going on where
all hell breaks loose.
That’s also when the fun and the vertigo and the special effects come into play. It starts with the head of the Statue of Liberty
landing in the street at the feet of our intrepid partygoers and goes on non-stop from there for another 70 minutes or so. The
allusions to 9/11, especially in the opening moments of the crisis are uncomfortable and momentarily give the film a too close for
comfort feeling but there’s not much time to contemplate as the action and the next barrier for our survivors kicks back in (sales for
the video game are going to go through the roof). Screenwriter Drew Goddard and director Matt Reeves throw in enough creepy
curves and audacious special effects to keep the suspense high (and they give Hud plenty of snarky, offhand commentary to help
relieve the tension).
Paramount – who kept the production and even the title under wraps – are going to take a lot of hits from critics and cranky web
surfers who have been expecting something a tad more substantial than what Cloverfield offers. For here is a movie that doesn’t
stop for any of the standard psychological explanations for what we’re seeing or even pretend to have any depth. It’s never even
clear what exactly the monster is (though there is a moment where we do get to see it up close) or where it came from, there are no
scenes of worried scientists with worried explanations and theories on how to stop the mayhem, no wrongheaded government
officials addressing the nation (though we do see plenty of military personnel). All refreshing (as was the blackout marketing
campaign – surprise is Cloverfield’s best friend). This is a movie stripped down to the basics – Monster Movie 101 – just us with
those clichéd survivors against that giant, lethal creature whose really, really pissed off. There’s no attempt to do anything other
than scare the bejesus out of susceptible audience members and keep us in suspense. This is as basic as the tagline for The
Poseidon Adventure which asked audiences members to blatantly decide, “Who will survive?”
On that score, I’d say that Cloverfield is a monster-sized success. I found it to be the cinematic equivalent of Orson Welles’ “War of
the Worlds” broadcast, a big BOO of a movie, helped immeasurably by that refreshing one camera twist (enough to almost single
handedly revive the moribund horror genre) and canny enough to have been redesigned for the YouTube generation as well as for
those elder folks like myself that still like a good ride on the roller coaster every once in awhile.