Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

One of the most eagerly anticipated films for years, Cloverfield arrives on a wave of hype so big that many people report they're afraid to see it in case of 'inevitable' disappointment.

Don't be afraid. Be very afraid.

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Be afraid not of disappointment. Though one of my fellow critics came out of this film moping loudly about inaccuracies in its depiction of video equipment (a fair point), most of us were on the edge of our seats throughout, and the general response was enormously positive. Be afraid of massive stomping ferocious monsters. Be afraid of buildings falling on you. Be afraid of smaller monsters scuttling around unseen, just waiting for the chance to strike. If you're looking for action, if you're looking for thrills, Cloverfield delivers.

This film works on a very simple premise - it could happen to you. Perhaps not in the form of a great big slavering monster; but then again, what if it did? We open with a group of friends enjoying a party. There's some fooling around, friendly banter, social clumsiness; the guy with the camera gets too nosy about other people's personal lives and then can't resist telling everyone what he's heard. The party is for Rob, who is due to leave and start a new job in Japan. It's easy to identify with these everyday people, a smart script and simple but effective performances getting us much closer than is usually possible in a horror or disaster movie. It's easy to feel as if we're at the party too. And then...

It comes out of nowhere, as disasters always do. Strange to watch people struggling in a panic to escape Manhattan when I've heard the stories of friends who've done that for real, but this film wastes no time on reflection or on trying to compare itself to past events. The sudden destruction we witness is on a scale beyond anything seen before. Those young party-goers we manage to stay with are stunned, standing around in the street trying to make their phones work, then running, hiding, desperately trying to hold on to one another - just trying to stay alive. Not all their decisions are the best, but they have very little time in which to think. The film doesn't try to tackle any big questions. What is this creature? Where did it come from? Why is it doing this? Our heroes don't know. They have other things to worry about.

Have you ever watched a Godzilla film and wondered what it would be like to see Tokyo stomped from ground level? Cloverfield takes that premise and runs with it, but this monster has none of Godzilla's quirky charm. We see it only fleetingly - a glimpse of tail here, a limb there. Gradually we build up a picture of alien horror. When we finally get a full-on view, it works surprisingly well, not the rubbery disappointment one might expect. It's weird, true, but in a genuinely alien sort of way. And, again, we have bigger things to worry about.

From a technical point of view, this is an enormously impressive film. The set design is stunning, especially where the camcorder through which we see everything is dropped and spins around. Frantic, blurry scenes always give us just enough information. You may have heard reports of people throwing up as a result of motion sickness from watching this film, but everyone in my screening was fine. Clumsy early camerawork settles down into something not quite so realistic but a lot more watchable.

It's said that monster movies are going to be the next big thing in Hollywood. If so, Cloverfield has given them a lot to live up to. Perhaps they're symptomatic of an age in which we feel we have less and less control over the big events in our lives, an age where we're told we should expect sudden disasters. But this isn't a film which requires intellectual depth. This is action in its purest sense.

One final thing worth noting about Cloverfield is its tremendous score, especially the Roar overture which plays during the closing credits. There are 12 minutes of these but it really is worth staying to the end, not because of any further revelations (although there is a brief burst of sound which, played backwards, delivers a predictably sequel-friendly message) but simply to listen to the music. You'll understand when you hear it.

Cloverfield is not a perfect film but it's far from a disaster. And it seems unlikely that you'll see many this year which are anything like as much fun.

Reviewed on: 28 Jan 2008
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A small group of friends struggle to survive when a giant monster attacks Manhattan.
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Read more Cloverfield reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray ***

Director: Matt Reeves

Writer: Drew Goddard

Starring: Michael Stahl-David, Jessica Lucas, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman, T J Miller, Lizzie Caplan, Brian Klugman, Liza Lapira

Year: 2008

Runtime: 85 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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