The Short of It
The events of the movie primarily take place at night of May 22, 2009. The lead character, Rob (Michael Stahl-David), is about to leave for Japan. His friends throw him a farewell party, much to his surprise. Hud (T.J.Miller) uses a camera to record messages from friends who wish him luck on his new job. The well wishers include Lily (Jessica Lucas) and Jason (Mike Vogel) who happens to be shown wearing a Slusho! shirt -- something that should be familiar to Alias fans and J. J. Abrams die-hards.
At Lily's request, Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) has also attended the party even though she has seen Rob only on a few occasions. For the most part, she spends the event dodging Hud who makes no attempt to hide the fact that he has a crush on her. Before she can even meet up with her friends, they feel a tremor and the lights begin to flicker. When they rush to the rooftop, they get a glimpse of the terror they face. Marlena is one of the first to get a glimpse of the Monster, saying that it eats people.
Found Footage Foolery
Initially, the terrifying events are viewed from a distance, with the panicking characters serving to heighten the thrills and giggles. In terms of iconic moments, we have to admit that seeing Lady Liberty's head rolling down the street left a lasting impression. It's way up there with her being slimed and animated in the Ghostbusters II. The rest of the scares come from the rescue mission Rob carries out to save Beth (Odette Yustman) from the 49th floor of a high rise building. His friends join him in this reckless mission, passing through the subway on foot. Somewhere along the way to Columbus Circle, a soldier informs them that they have a chance so long as they make it to the last rescue chopper in time.
As it is presented as a personal recording, the "footage" for the movie lasts as long as a DV tape would. Having bits of old videos written over by the events of Cloverfield adds a special touch to the film's delivery. It shows the group during better times and gives viewers the chance to feel for them a bit more than if they were simply thrown in without a back story.
All Style, No Substance
As with many of the films in the genre, quite a number things go unexplained. Where did the Monster come from? Is it a reptile or an insect? The characters do voice out their thoughts on the matter, with their theories ranging from the Monster coming from outer space or maybe from deep beneath the ocean, ala Godzilla. Inconsistencies and absurdities are obscured by masterful cuts, such as Lily walking through mayhem and climbing all the way up to the 49th floor in her high heels. That's not to say the film is B-grade in its entirety. Though it's not the most realistic film to grace the screens, it does succeed in terms of being entertaining.
So is Cloverfield a yay or a nay for found footage skeptics. While it probably won't change your mind about the genre as a whole, it does have its scary moments. Things start heating up once we get a good look at the reptilian monster, with its slew of ugly spider babies. The film never mentions Godzilla due to trademark concerns, the Monster was most likely influenced by the iconic "daikaiju".
Basically, if you're looking for something that will fool you with its amazing realism, then Cloverfield may not be your cup of tea. However if you can forgive silly details such as the camera's absurd battery life, then you may just find the film to be a real treat. As a found footage movie, we can say that it takes the genre up a notch.