Cloverfield takes place in what seems like real time but is really over the course of one crazy night. The entire film is seen through the eyes of Hud (T.J. Miller) who is filming his friend Rob's (Michael Stahl-David) going away party on a small hand-held camera. Without warning, a giant earthquake-like rumble shakes Manhattan and sets off a deadly chain of events including balls of fire and an unthinkable gigantic monster that destroys everything in site along with its offspring. Hud, Rob, and a few others, must run from this giant monster to a military helicoptor and flee the destruction. But can they outrun the terror?
If made any other way, Cloverfield would've been nothing special. Just you're typical big studio blockbuster. But it earns major points for the way it is shot, as well as the elements of it that make it an allegory.
Cloverfield seems to be no doubt an allegory on 9/11. The scenes of downtown destruction bring up the haunting images of people, dust-covered, fleeing from the exploding Twin Towers and being trapped in what seems like inescapable doom. Another recent film tried to do this: Spielberg's War of the Worlds. While that film succeeded on many levels (and is better than most make it out to be) it fails on many. Cloverfield manages to be strong in the areas where Worlds was weak. One place is that the people surrounding the main characters are not simply used to be tossed around. You see very little background of them but their fear and emotions are as clear as the protagonists.
The truly biggest part of Cloverfield's success is in it's cinematography. The only way to describe it's style is the camerawork of The Office and Blair Witch Project along with the storytelling of Lady in the Lake. The whole story is told through Hud's camera and like Lady in the Lake the only things we see are what the main character sees. Therefore, we are totally engrossed in their story. All we want to see is their survival and that helps make the story even more suspensful. However, Hud manages to capture everything going on around him (including the monster) and we therefore see every other person and feel something towards them and understand their troubles. That is, seconds before they perish.
One review has called this film a disaster film for the "YouTube Generation". This can also be called the "Me" Generation. Why it's called the YouTube Generation is because what sites like YouTube have allowed is for any ordinary person (even Sexman) to gain some sort of power. It showed that you don't have to be a big name director to make a popular movie: all you need is a camera, a few friends, and some good ideas. It is also one where everything is in the palm of your hand from iPods to cell phones to even the internet.
Hud's camera work is perfect for the "Me" generation as he has access to incredible footage of a killing machine in his hands. Although, and like Lady in the Lake, the main character is never seen except for a few shots. Everything else is focusing on the soon to be gone Manhattan.
As well as being a reflection on current American society, Cloverfield also works well as simply a damn good movie. I can't even remember the last time something has scarred me this much. Only knowing what the characters know makes each random bump and scream all the more scary. Cloverfield proves that you don't need a $100 Million+ budget to be scary. All it takes is some good, classic scares and some true realism to freak out the audience.
The style of Cloverfield has been done before but the way the filmmakers tackle it helps make it entertaining and original. It never goes into Hollywood comfort zone and stays in the discomfort of the real world. And unlike Worlds, it doesn't end in the Hollywodd comfort zone. It concludes far from it. Cloverfield is the kind of film that some will love and some will hate but it must be admired for it's audacity and strange stylistic beauty. And yes, that monster is scarier than Jaws and Godzilla combined.