When a major catastrophe unfolds, you never learn right away why it happened. You live it, and you try to get through it.
That's the experience depicted in Cloverfield, directed by Matt Reeves and produced by J.J. Abrams (of TV's Lost). You have no idea why a hideous, skyscraper-sized creature is rampaging through Manhattan destroying everything in its path. But it is, and since you're in its way, you'd better figure out how to deal with it before your butt gets killed.
The film is that simple, intense and crazy for its 80 minutes, as you travel vicariously through the city via the "video camera" of one scared dude.
It all starts benignly: Jason (Mike Vogel) and his girlfriend, Lily (Jessica Lucas), are planning a surprise going-away party for his brother Rob (Michael Stahl-David), who is moving to Japan. (Homage to Godzilla, perhaps.) The party and its aftermath are videotaped by Rob's best friend, Hud (T.J. Miller). Once the attack begins, these four are joined by the object of Hud's hormones, Marlena (Lizzy Caplan). The group sets out simply to escape Manhattan, but returns to the borough to save Rob's sweetie, Beth (Odette Yustman), who is trapped on the 39th floor (naturally) of her half-destroyed Columbus Circle apartment.
Throughout the entire movie, we see only where Hud trains his camera. There are no long shots of the monster knocking stuff over, or popping tourists in its mouth like Tic Tacs; there's no presidential address on CNN that explains what this terrible creature is and where it came from. The best part? That doesn't matter
Cloverfield is simply a really good basic monster movie: Something ate that guy down the street -- and if we don't move our asses, we're next. The exclusively first-person technique utilized here means we're living it, we're trying to escape. Back story -- who cares? If that thing gets Rob and Hud and Lily, then it gets us, too.
The actors do a fine job of portraying their fright, panic, hope and despair; they are also great at making you believe that you really are watching a candid, personal videotape. And while you don't get to see T.J. Miller's Hud that often, he's a crucial character: He offers what little levity there is, and convinces us that, for him, holding onto that camera no matter what is the most important thing in the world.
As for the monster, its presence too is key to the story -- even though, through much of the film, we can't see it. When it's finally revealed, the payoff is worth the wait. Scary? Let's just say kids won't be clamoring for the action figure.