Review: Monster mash-up

“Cloverfield,” which takes its name from the Santa Monica boulevard where producer J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot production company is based, is a sleek, silly product of green filmmaking: It recycles old ideas and molds them into a lean, briskly paced thriller that owes as much to classic monster movies like “Godzilla” as ambitious, gimmick-driven misfires like “The Blair Witch Project.”

Abrams, whose creations include “Mission: Impossible III” and TV’s “Lost,” allegedly came up with the idea for “Cloverfield” during a promotional tour of Japan, where Godzilla was originally conceived as a metaphor for America, the nuclear superpower that laid waste to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Here, the tables have turned as a cast of handsome young Manhattanites struggle to survive an attack by a towering, seemingly indestructible monster bent on nothing less than Armageddon.

It’s a simple premise, chilling in its depiction of man as a hopelessly endangered species.

Rob (Michael Stahl-David) is a corporate workaholic on the verge of leaving for a job in Japan, but not before celebrating one last evening with his friends, including his brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and Hud (T.J. Miller), an oblivious sort who agrees to document the evening on a digital camcorder. The footage he collects is mostly forgettable — drunken testimonials, snippets of scandalous gossip — until a cataclysmic explosion sends the head of the Statue of Liberty careening into the streets of lower Manhattan.

It is a jarring spectacle, enough to send Rob’s guests scattering into the balmy evening as the New York skyline is illuminated by thunderous blasts, each more violent than the last.

Rob sets off in search of Beth (Odette Yustman), a longtime friend and former lover, even as the wreckage piles up around him. The rest of “Cloverfield” is a desperate race to safety, even as the city’s subway tunnels and emergency shelters are overrun by spider-like creatures that dine on human flesh.

Unlike “The Host,” in which the reckless disposal of chemical waste spawned a mutant carnivore along South Korea’s Han River, “Cloverfield” makes no attempt to explain its beasts or their motives. The devastation speaks for itself, captured in stark, graphic fashion by Hud’s perpetually shaking camera. The home movie that follows is dizzying and deliberately crude but brilliant in its minimalism — the most unsettling violence is suggested but rarely shown, and Abrams’ monster is revealed only in tantalizing glimpses until the film’s bleak denouement.

As a stylistic device, the handheld camerawork and documentary-style footage are bound to evoke memories of “The Blair Witch Project,” but “Cloverfield” is a sharper, more-polished experiment. Its cast of unknowns rises to the occasion — they seem genuinely terrified, despite their surreal resilience in the face of unthinkable peril. Meanwhile, the action around them unfolds quickly and convincingly, at a pace breathless enough to provide cover for the film’s least plausible moments.

CREDITS

Cloverfield 

* * * 

Starring: Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman

Written by Drew Goddard

Directed by Matt Reeves

Rated PG-13

Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes

artsentertainmentOther Arts

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

A construction worker watches a load for a crane operator at the site of the future Chinatown Muni station for the Central Subway on Tuesday, March 3, 2021. (Sebastian Miño-Bucheli / Special to the S.F. Examiner)
Major construction on Central Subway to end by March 31

SFMTA board approves renegotiated contract with new deadline, more contractor payments

Neighbors and environmental advocates have found the Ferris wheel in Golden Gate Park noisy and inappropriate for its natural setting. <ins>(</ins>
Golden Gate Park wheel wins extension, but for how long?

Supervisors move to limit contract under City Charter provision requiring two-thirds approval

San Francisco school teachers and staff will be able to get vaccinations without delay with the recent distribution of priority codes. 
Shutterstock
SF distributes vaccine priority codes to city schools

San Francisco has received its first vaccine priority access codes from the… Continue reading

COVID restrictions have prompted a benefit or two, such as empty streets in The City. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
Taking the scenic route through a pandemic

Streets of San Francisco are pleasantly free of traffic

Kelly Marie Tran and Awkwafina provide the voices of the title characters of “Raya and the Last Dragon.” <ins>(Courtesy Disney)</ins>
‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ boasts full-scale diversity

Though familiar in plot, Disney’s latest is buoyed by beauty, pride and power

Most Read