I am not attracted to science fiction conventions, I have little patience with sci-fi fans whose tastes begin and end with that genre, and I was appalled and depressed by the praise accorded a piece of two-bit junk called “The Blair Witch Project.”
Now, in the tradition of “Blair Witch” and “Godzilla,” along comes a loudly hyped venture ironically titled “Cloverfield,” and I am pleased to say that it is absolutely terrific. Basically, it’s the account of a Gen-X downtown Manhattan party that with a loud boom turns into a doomsday nightmare of apocalyptic proportions. Prepare to be jolted into a terrifying scenario in which the inhabitants choose not whether they will perish but where they will meet their demise.
It is, if you will, an experiment in terror drawing on the memory of 9/11. When all hell breaks loose, the head of the Statue of Liberty crashes to the ground, the Brooklyn Bridge collapses as denizens of the island try to escape, and it is all recorded by a hand-held camera, for in this new age of digital and amateur video, significant chunks of history are and will be recorded by the everyday schmoes.
What we witness from beginning to end is a government-confiscated home video made by a group of revelers-turned-escapees, whose first pleasurable impulse is to record farewell messages from partiers out to wish their friend Rob (Michael Stahl-David) a bon voyage for his imminent stint in Japan, perhaps an obvious allusion to “Godzilla.”
It takes a while to adjust to the necessarily shaky hand-held images, and if there is a flaw to the experience, it is that the party interviews go on too long. Then again, as was the case with Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” there’s something deliciously perverse about setting up a first scene that does not connect thematically with the rest of the film. When the shock comes (not a knife and shower scene, but a loud sonic boom), we are from that moment on thrust into a perpetual state of shock in a city that is in a state of siege, invaded by an alien monster.
Who knows where the monster comes from. The sea? Outer space? We catch glimpses, and in one horrific scene, we come face to face with its mighty jaws. There is little respite in the 85-minute travelogue (including titles), which is at once an escape and rescue operation as one guy tries to locate the girl he has abandoned. His friends follow, one of them named Hud (T.J. Miller), the guy charged with videotaping the party and then the chaotic nightmare. As things worsen, event the army recognizes defeat and retreat. “Whatever it is,” says one soldier, “it’s winning.”
Consistently gripping, “Cloverfield” is a significant accomplishment, and as I mentioned, it takes the “Blair Witch” approach to new and strikingly original levels. It’s a home movie approach taken to the level of art. On this level alone, consider “Cloverfield” an instant classic.
May I suggest that you will not absorb the whole experience unless you see it enhanced by the proper digital sound. I saw “Cloverfield” at Movieland, Schenectady, where the effect was extraordinary. Please do not see it in a theater without the proper and artistically necessary equipment.
Finally, this PG-13 film is not for younger kids vulnerable to nightmares. For some young ones, the experience could prove to be unbearable.
Reach Gazette film critic Dan DiNicola at [email protected]
DIRECTED BY Matt Reeves
SCREENPLAY BY Drew Goddard
STARRING Lizzy Kaplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel and Odette Yustman
RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes