A Review of “Cloverfield”

CAPTION:  Lizzy Caplan and Jessica Lucas were ready for their close-ups until that pesky monster came along.

Pretty Close to Something Terrible…, 21 January 2008
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

At one point during the mayhem of “Cloverfield” our jerky-jokey cameraman Hud (an annoying T. J. Miller) remarks that the monster ravaging New York City is “something terrible.” Well, “Cloverfield” is pretty close to something terrible, but it’s also laugh-out-loud funny and loads of fun.

Taking cues from “The Blair Witch Project”, “Godzilla”, and our current YouTube/MySpace crazed youth oriented culture that believes everyone’s point of view deserves to be recorded, producer J. J. Abrams’ opportunistic “Cloverfield” operates at a mercifully quick clip to maximize entertainment value with a minimum of effort (and budget) while showing us allegedly top-secret video footage recovered after a massive monster attack on NYC.

Though barely ninety minutes long, we still have to suffer through an excruciatingly banal opening twenty minutes of vapid, spoiled twenty-somethings partying the night away before the monster strikes. There was a moment somewhere during this that I actually zoned out completely and found myself staring at the dark theater wall. The cast of unknowns thankfully contains a few people who might be able to act if given the chance in a normal film. Standouts include the painfully lovely Jessica Lucas as the feisty Lily and Zooey Deschanel look-a-like Lizzy Caplan as the sarcastic Marlena. These two young actresses acquitted themselves nicely while a group of anonymous and interchangeable actors playing stupid characters making bad decision after bad decision whirled around them. It made for one of those odd movie-going experiences where you actually start routing for certain characters to die in horrible ways while you hope the pretty girls make it out alive because, well, they’re cute.

As a gimmick film, “Cloverfield” is as shallow as they come. It’s also too silly and too much fun to end up mad about it. At least the idiot hand-held cameraman/character wants to see the monster and the destruction as much as we do. This leads to some great money-shots of the creature and its tour of terror through midtown Manhattan. It would’ve been more thrilling had I not seen very similarly designed creature effects in last fall’s “The Mist”. Like that film, “Cloverfield” certainly has its moments of giddy monster oriented fun, but it ultimately implodes and leaves behind a wreck of a movie that is pretty close to something terrible.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:



  1. NICE! I have no intentions of seeing this movie, and thanks for solidifying that!!!

    Heath, glad to have been of service! –DHS

  2. I agree – it was horrible. That was an hour of my life that I will never get back…

    Jess, well my point was that at least it was only a little bit over an hour…and c’mon, some of it was stupid fun, no? –DHS

  3. Yeah I came out of that movie feeling almost exactly the same way you felt. I almost hate to admit that movies are bad, not because I feel bad, but because I want to find something good in it. I still salvaged something good in it, coupled with the excitement it brought at first…at least there is yet another shift in what we fear in these kind of attack/monster films. We are back to being unified to fear for something more abstract and falling away from fearing people vs. people aka an idea that emanates from 9-11. I also didn’t want to admit that the hand-held was distracting but besides making my roommate queezy throughout the whole film, there were no times in the entire film when we forget about the hand-held aesthetic, which I kinda wanted to forget about.

    Yes, Hud’s comments were comic relief and gave kind of a narrative to this otherwise empty, i don’t care much about the characters story, and it certainly got the idea down about youth technology culture right now, but…I came out of it kinda disappointed. Maybe it was too much hype..or dare I say it was to “surreally” real?

    Lisa, it’s interesting that you echo some comments in a review of the film I found on Salon.com that I feel looked way too deeply into it and made some connections to 9/11 and that hyper-realistic surrealism. I didn’t see a need to look into it that deeply. I just thought it was an opportunistic gimmick film designed for profit through hype that worked on some levels as a dumb monster movie, but failed to say anything of substance. –DHS

  4. I gotta say I really liked Cloverfield and want to see it again.

    The format makes for a storytelling challenge, because real life (that’s the uncut stuff on a video cam) doesn’t follow the “hero’s journey” template at the normal pace. But even within the limits of the found video format, the moviemakers have pulled off a lot of victories.

    1. Suspense. Even the opening segments are suspenseful, since you know this is a monster movie. And it continues throughout.
    2. Character development. Hud becomes a little more sensitive, and faces his limitations (“I don’t know what to say,” is quite a confession for a character who normally won’t shut up.) Lizzy becomes less sarcastic. The single most effective acting moment is when Marlena is underground after the group has been attacked by (spoilers-be-gone). [I’m a new Lizzy Caplan fan.]
    3. Sound design that substitutes for a score. If you’ve seen the movie, go again and LISTEN. The sound design works like a champ to keep the heart beating.

    Is it a great movie?No. But it’s a fascinating movie. And there are lots of easter eggs for the LOST fans out there. I will go see the sequel.

    Paul, I don’t feel the style made it suspenseful at all, only cumbersome. The lack of suspense, however, is mostly due to the unlikable nature of most of the characters. I do take your points about the attempt at character development later on and the sound design. I, too, am a bit of a Lizzy Caplan fan, and I agree that scene of the “underground attack” was the most effective in the film. I am not a fan of LOST of any of Abrams’ works, so perhaps that is where the line is drawn. His fans will like this movie; others will meet it with a shrug. I’m not going to deny that parts of it weren’t entertaining, I just don’t feel it’s worth the hype. –DHS

  5. I agree with Paul. Alot more credit to this film, but you have to enjoy Abrams style, especially with his LOST style of suspense. Which if you don’t get into it originally, you probably never will. Acquired taste, but overall, Cloverfield I felt has re-energized the “monster movie” genre. And for me, that will be good enough. Remake of Beast from 20,000 Fathoms anyone ?

    Horsie, nope. –DHS

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