Shrouded in mystery and riding a wave of fan hype, “Cloverfield” has at last arrived in theaters and delivers the goods. The film is produced by J.J. Abrams who is the mastermind behind “LOST”, “Alias”, “Mission Impossible 3”, and the next “Star Trek Film”. With a pedigree like this, it is clear that Abrams has a clear understanding of what fans want in their action/fantasy and he supplies it in droves.

The film cleverly tells the story through footage from a video camera that has been recovered in what used to be Central Park. The audience informed of this in the opening scenes when a series of coded missives against a Government warning indicates that this footage is now classified.
The footage in the camera is footage of a group of friends preparing a surprise party for their friend Rob (Michael Stahl-David), who is about to go to Japan as part of his new job as a V.P. of his company. The fact that such a young man has raised to such a prestigious position shows that Rob is clearly a motivated young man with a future, and based on the large turnout at his party, a very popular one at that.

Through footage that has been recorded over and pops up occasionally in the film, we learn that Rob and his friend Beth (Odette Yustman) had a recent physical relationship that has caused issues between them due to Rob’s pending departure for Japan. This becomes heated at the party, as amongst the throngs of well wishers, Rob and Beth have a fight that ends with Beth leaving and Rob verbally lashing out at her.

As his brother Jason (Mike Vogel), and best friend Hud (T.J. Miller), try to console Rob, the party is wracked by a sever jolt, that startles everyone in attendance. Thinking it is an earthquake, the guests are informed via television that there has been a platform overturned in the harbor, and before the guests know what hit them, there is an explosion followed by the head of the Statue of Liberty hurling through the streets.

Horrified by the noise and destruction about them, many of the guests as well as the local populace seek to exit the city, and make their way toward bridges out of Manhattan. Things go from bad to worse, and Rob, Hud, Jason, and their friends soon find themselves trapped.

Wracked by guilt over his conversation with Beth, Rob is surprised when she calls him saying that she is injured and trapped, which forces Rob to make a decision, as he and his friends, race back towards the carnage, in an effort to save Beth instead of seeking the safety before them.

Thus the stage is set for one of the more entertaining films of this genre in recent memory. The film moves along briskly, as with a running time of an hour and ten minutes, never becomes dull or overstays its welcome.

The action is intense as Rob and his friends are faced with a world gone mad, as what was once thought to be a terrorist attack goes madly astray when they see a giant creature wrecking havoc on Manhattan despite the best efforts of the military.

The intense action combined with the constant unknown as well as the suspense of the situation helps place the audience into the shoes of the characters, who unlike most genre films, come across as very real characters, despite little attention to their histories. This works very well, as we know what we need to about them as they are clearly close friends who when faced in an amazing situation, support and listen to each other without turning on one another.

Some may question the lack of answers in the film as many of the who, what, when, and why’s of the situation are not clearly explained, but the film works this in, as the audience learns and sees, only what the group of ordinary people see as they flee the streets. Since they are not high ranking military or government types, they are not given the answer, nor do they become fixated on finding them, as they are simply trying to survive.

Since the film is shot from a video camera, there are many scenes that are very herky-jerky, and some people exiting our screener mentioned that they were a bit dizzy from all of the motion. While it was at times difficult, it was also very realistic, and added to the immersion process, as you at times truly felt like you were right at Rob’s side with his friends. I did have to question how the camera, which was on constantly during the ordeal, never lost charge or needed to have the battery replaced, but in fantasy, suspension of belief is often a key criteria to propel the plot.

Much has been speculated as to the creature that is key to the plot of the film as very fan sites have run wild with speculation and claims to have the inside story. While I will not ruin the surprise, I will say that it turns out to be highly effective and engaging, and only adds to the mystery and horror of the situation. Once again, Abrams and company are to be applauded for taking an old formula of a creature on the loose in a large city, and making it fresh and invigorating.

“Cloverfield” is a solid and highly entertaining film, that would stand up with any of the past summer blockbusters and was a very welcome and refreshing way to kick off the 08 movie year, and a nice change from the comedies and dramas that usually dominate theaters this time of year.

4.5 stars out of 5.