I did my best to avoid the hype surrounding the initial release of Cloverfield. Such media saturation and public interest can often cloud the issue of whether the actual film is any good. Five years later and having watched the movie twice, once in the theatre and once at home, I am still somewhat conflicted about this movie. The use of hand held video cameras is both a boon and a bane. The constant movement of the image has proven to cause motion sickness for some viewers, although this is not so overwhelming when viewed on a smaller screen at home. Yet the medium of news footage mixed with handheld cameras does create a palpable sense of immediacy. This helps immensely when trying to sell a fantastic concept, such as the one that Cloverfield features.
Well let's get the obvious out of the way first. Yes, this film is potentially an act of national catharses over the events of 9/11. In the same way that the 1954 Godzilla (Gojira) was the Japanese way of dealing with the Atomic Bombing at the end of the war. The hand-held mockumentary style does lend and element of contemporary credibility to the proceeding. However more discerning film fans will be familiar with this technique in several other productions, such as The Blair Witch project, The Last Broadcast, Ghostwatch, Cannibal Holocaust, REC and Diary Of The Dead. The film also utilises the classic plot device of only hinting at the monster. The fleeting glimpses caught between the skyscrapers of the Manhattan skyline are extremely well done and certainly contribute to the sense of horror and unease.
The story moves at a fast pace and the movie has a near perfect plot to running time ratio. It does not out stay its welcome and concludes in a fashion one would expect from such a genre production. There is little or no information given out in relation to the nature of the creature that has appeared or where it has hailed from. This works well, as the central theme is not the monster per se, but how people and governments deal with cataclysmic events. It is both scary and shocking but the violence is never overstated. But where Cloverfield fails is with its central characters. They are not as under developed as you would expect. They are simply unlikeable. In an effort to appeal to the target audience demographics, the producers focus on quartet of young "yuppies". Sadly, they are shallow and crass people. The women scream and the men just bellow, unable to deal with the unfolding events. This is not implausible, just depressingly credible. It's a shame that the makers of this film did not show as much flare and imagination for their central protagonists as they did with the visual effects and production design.
Now the actual creature itself, as mentioned above, remains cunningly hidden for the bulk of the film. It is quite ironic that a creature of such size can remain so well hidden in the densely built urban environment of New York. There is a particularly good aerial shot that shows the creature striding between buildings and subject to an air strike from a Stealth bomber. It is hinted that it is eating people that cross its path, a fact that is later more overtly established when the beats is revealed to our gaze in Central park. I personally think that this was a mistake and that the once clearly observed, the well-designed creature loses some of its mystique. I'm sure that the production team were also influenced to the work of H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos. Similar giant alien beasts are briefly seen in Frank Darabont's The Mist. There is also a secondary threat brought about by the creature in the shape of parasites that are shaken loose from its body. These arthropods are the size of a dog and their bite presents another set of problems.
Overall, Cloverfield is a very enjoyable film. It is scary enough to appeal to a range of audiences and maintains a steady pace that carries the narrative beyond the obvious flaws and plot holes. Slightly older viewers and Europeans may find the American youth a little grating but after the opening plot exposition, we are fully immersed in the ongoing disaster. We then have an exhilarating ride for the remaining hour. Hence the movie is recommended as an example of well-produced populist entertainment and as a better example of the found footage genre. It should be noted that the 2016 film 10 Cloverfield Lane is not a direct sequel per se but more of a tangential follow up. Allegedly a third film is being made that will bring the various plot threads of all movies together.