Movies Reviews J.J. Abrams
Share Tweet Submit Pin

Release Date: Jan. 18
Director: Matt Reeves
Writer: Drew Goddard
Cinematographer: Michael Bonvillain
Producer: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David
Studio/Run Time: Paramount Pictures, 90 mins.

About half an hour into Cloverfield, the low-budget monster movie from Lost producer J.J. Abrams, you will begin praying for a pause button

. You'll offer gentle supplications and fiery pleas; you'll wrangle and cajole with the unseen gods of the cinema. Perhaps you'll even bargain away your firstborn for the chance to pause this movie for just five seconds.

But it will be for naught, and in the end, you'll be perched on the edge of your seat, straining for glimpses—a thigh here, a shoulder there—of this thing, this huge beast that's literally tearing New York City apart. What you'll see, amidst the smoke and rubble and screaming, is one of the most innovative movies of the year.

When Cloverfield's teaser trailer made its debut this past summer, it touched off a firestorm of Internet speculation. Abrams, after all, is the mastermind behind one of television's most popular and befuddling shows right now, and it stood to reason that his monster movie's plot would be every bit as convoluted as his TV work. The teaser hinted at a movie based entirely on "found footage" documenting not only the beast's ferocious attack, but also the dramatic personal relationships that the twentysomething survivors juggled. Even the name threw people for a loop. Where is Cloverfield? Who is Cloverfield? What's the big mystery?

Ultimately, it doesn't matter.

Cloverfield has several chances to screw up, to take the wrong path and present a cinematic experience fraught with cliché. It bows to none of these. Instead, the film looks unflinchingly at horror and survival. The characters—hipsters all—spend the entire movie terrified; the most commonly heard sound effect is panting. The camera work is done entirely on handheld camcorders, and the jittery shots, with their infrequent glimpses at the 40-story titan stalking the cityscape, drive home the notion that the footage truly was recovered at the periphery of the disaster site.

It's not, of course. Cloverfield's great strength is in its editing. With relatively poor digital film stock, director Matt Reeves pares each scene down to its essential parts. Judicious use of special effects makes the monster's appearances all the more fantastic.

Cloverfield improves on all the familiar trappings of monster movies, keeping the best bits and discarding the rest. There is no grim warrior toting a huge gun, no scientist racing to find a cure, no military general barking orders. Cloverfield has no heroes—only refugees and the beast.