Cloverfield review - Cloverfield isn't quite a religious experience, but it is a revelation; a galaxy apart from the stunted schlock you're probably braced for. This time - unlike Snakes On A Plane - the online mythology and viral marketing is a beginning rather than an end.
Producer JJ Abrams and director Matt Reeves have created no less than the first post-9/11 horror/sci-fi classic. War Of The Worlds? Behave. This is a smarter, edgier, more grounded grind through the terror riff-list. Breathless blockbuster entertainment with a bracing political payload and satire to spare.
From the moment the monster crashes the Manhattan work-leaving party ("I've seen it! It's alive!") Cloverfield absolutely does not stop. No asides, no let-ups, no languid mid-section swollen with bloodstained backstory. Just... a scorched and shattered city under attack from something unknowable, unkillable and unstoppable.
Like we said - terror. Why should the Oscar-whoring hand-wringers (Lions For Lambs, Rendition, The Kingdom) enjoy a monopoly on pinging the mood of the times? Cynics will dismiss Cloverfield as a pointless, crash-bang din of shouting and shooting. Anyone can wobble a camera around and call it a movie, right?
Wrong. As Abrams has said, "King Kong was adorable, Godzilla was charming. I wanted this to be an American monster. Something insane and intense". That is, the titanic, lumbering sum of all American fears right here, right now…
Yes, the monster is revealed and yes, it is fantastically monstrous. But it's much, much more than a big scary-looking CG overlay. It's indiscriminate and devastating; free of morality, bent on destruction for destruction's sake. Rack up the queasy, familiar images: fleeing citizens, streets choked with smoke and rubble; hapless authorities; powerless military. This, as the outgoing resident of the real-life White House knows all too well, is a problem that won't go away simply by bombarding it with military hardware.
Bolting the story to a Blair Witch-like conceit of discovered footage, Reeves layers in the sly, time-capsule satire on how we live now. With the entire action viewed through a sterile, static-twitching sheen of hand-held camera, the gaggle of upscale twentysomethings are cast as a generation communicating with technology rather than biology. There’s cellphone-loss hysteria; futile looting at an electronics store; and when the head of the Statue Of Liberty tumbles down the street, it’s instantly mobbed and smothered in phone-cam flash.
To balance out the dark subtext, Reeves hasn't skimped on the fireworks. Cloverfield is blaring with sound and fury, roaring with cinematic shock and awe… A shell-firing tank stomped like a soda-can; the Brooklyn Bridge shattered and scattered into groaning steel smithereens; a half-toppled skyscraper wedged against its neighbour like a gigantic domino; and a barnstorming creature-feature money-shot beautifully timed to both tease and terrorise.
Moans about sketchy characters and dodgy dialogue are irrelevant. These aren't disaster-movie templates - good guy, fat guy, hysterical girl, selfish guy who deserves to die. They're you, me, everyman/ woman. In an era when we’re documenting our every thought and mood; mugging and moping into webcams and flushing the footage down the YouTube, everybody is a star - which means no-one is.
"What is that thing?" a character asks a soldier. "I don't know," he barks. "But it's winning." "This is like a nightmare!" howls another... In such a tuned-in, turned-on age, Abrams/Reeves strike a spectacular chord of ultimate panic: unprotected and uninformed.
Relentless, apocalyptic, subversive, immersive. Abrams and Reeves weave uncomfortable themes into a monster disguise and smuggle them into a multiplex near you. A truly horrific horror-movie targeted squarely at the mood of our terror-twitchy times. Watch the skyline.