With bated breath and anticipation the ever growing fan base of J. J. Abrams was strung along for the better part of six months – patiently tolerating tease trailers, gossip, and snippets for his latest work…the mysteriously titled Cloverfield. What is it? Monsters, global warming, nuclear war, the end of the world? Abrams managed to seal the lips of all involved in the production and delivered a modern movie miracle. No one seemed to know the answers and the line at the theater opening night seemed to indicate that the mystery will mean big bucks to Abrams and his team. Genius.
It is always a risky business to take what is primarily an unknown cast and throw them into a big budget film and have it pay off. But Lost has proven that Abrams and his team are just the group to do the trick. With director Matt Reeves at the helm, this movie avoided the other teen thriller cliches by the masterful use of the camera. Remember The Blair Witch Project? I need not say anymore other than to cross that with The Day After Tomorrow and you are somewhat in the ballpark of Cloverfield. While the movie develops around a group of friends who have gathered to say their goodbyes to Rob, played by Michael Stahl-David, the real story teller is Hud, T. J. Miller, Rob’s best friend and the one in charge of the video camera. He makes his way through the crowd, enticing the friends to offer their final goodbyes.
For the first half hour or so the audience is left to feel as if they are watching a home movie of a group of kids they don’t know. How many times have I been forced into watching someone’s wedding video or childhood home movies? At least that torture was free. Because of this, I found it hard to relate; hard to empathise with Rob and his friends as they tearfully say goodbye. After all, this is not my friend or my home movie. And frankly, little is done to convince the audience to think or believe otherwise.
A plot change comes right on time. First its an earthquake, then loud noises, then the electricity flashes. The innocent party is over. Heck, life as they knew it was over. The crowd of kids head for the roof of their high rise to see the mayhem of mid town NYC. Hud remains behind the lens, never putting the camera down as the mysterious disaster takes them from the roof to the streets and beyond. What began as a sad night of goodbyes for Rob turned quickly into a night of survival. Friends get separated, some die, others return to rescue the stranded, and Hud continues on. He is the only reason we get to eavesdrop on the awful scene. And while you never forget that you’re seeing a movie through the lens of a home movie camera and at the mercy of the operator, somewhere along the way you get invested in the group and somehow feel very involved.
These kids become brothers and sisters and the audience is drafted into their group as an extension. Their pain and anguish is very real. The ride is exhilarating and exhausting. And it appears that there is no way out of the inevitable. And so, I give the acting just as much props as the special filming technique. While others may disagree, the ‘source’ of the panic and disaster is not the star of the show as it would have been in a Michael Bay or Bruckheimer film. Honestly, ‘it’ is over the top, unbelievable and remains mysterious. But I did not care because I believed Rob, Hud, and their friends. They made it very, very real.
And it would not be an Abrams project without there being a built in opening for a sequel.