Herald rating: ****
Cast: Michael Stahl-David, Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller
Director: Matt Reeves
Rating: M (fantasy violence)
Running time: 84 mins
Screening: SkyCity, Hoyts, Berkeley cinemas
Verdict: Web-hyped handycam monster movie delivers big thrills
Well it's good to see the price of some things is going down - the price of wrecking New York in a movie has dropped markedly in recent years, thanks to Cloverfield. Instead of the hundreds of millions represented by the likes of King Kong, I am Legend, The Day After Tomorrow, and those killer comet flicks, Cloverfield mashes the Big Apple for next to nothing. Well US$25 million or so and it's all over in a tidy 84 minutes.
Does a bang-up job too, in its own way - its handycam point of view throughout suggests Blair Witch Project meets Godzilla with copious allusions to 9/11. It's a YouTube monster movie which has come complete with its own internet viral marketing campaign buzzing off the involvement of Lost creator JJ Abrams as producer.
That also means its camerawork risks inducing motion sickness as the film works very hard to make the whole thing look natural, the whole film supposedly being the contents of a recovered handycam memory stick which shows not only the fateful night but flips to characters' backstories.
But the conceit of the whole film being derived from one hand-held digital source isn't as convincing as it looks - its twentysomething characters played by unknowns are curiously photogenic and tend to say the usual horror flick things to each other as their numbers are inevitably reduced without any of the survivors being too upset about it.
Taking longer than it should, it establishes the characters through shots of a going away bash in Lower Manhattan for Rob (Michael Stahl-David), who's been promoted to Japan. His friend Hud (T.J. Miller) is recruited as videographer who is soon catching some soap operatics at the party which starts the usual disaster movie scenario - best summed up in the line "we have to go back for her".
What follows is an intense fright-fest. Though shot throw that narrowest of lens, Cloverfield still thinks big. It comes with terrifying scenes of famous statue heads being used as shotputs, bridges collapsing, and a perilous rescue atop a set of parallel buildings which along with the occasional billowing dust cloud is a none-too-subtle reminder of you-know-what.
Throughout, Cloverfield pulls off the trick of generating tension from what it doesn't reveal or what might be lurking just out of frame. That's an old trick, of course, and there's not really a lot new about Cloverfield, apart from its ground-level perspective. But there's no denying its inventiveness or intensity, and both are sure to make this New York demo tape a monster hit.