Hand-held monster film is queasy, not that scary

2008-02-11 00:00

FOR a monster movie, Cloverfield packs a pretty lame punch. The brew is a mix of Godzilla, King Kong and The Blair Witch Project, put together so roughly the sense of déjà vu overwhelms every scene. By the time the climax (which is already flagged in the opening frame) comes, there’s no kick left, only a mild nausea brought on by an hour’s non-stop hand-held video.

The hand behind the videocam belongs to Hud (T.J. Miller), the designated documenter of a farewell party for Rob (Michael Stahl-David), who’s leaving Manhattan for a job in Japan. At first it’s all gossip, with the start of a love story taking shape in between inane clichés and partygoers hamming it up. Suddenly things get shaken up by explosions and quakes as the unseen monster makes its presence felt, and it stays on the periphery of the action for nearly the duration of the film, which, instead of imbuing it with menace, simply makes it absent.

The hand-held shooting device is so chaotic it draws attention to itself, a distraction away from the tribulations of a group of friends trying to flee to safety. The amateurish gloss does make for a more immediate experience, a rough-and-ready record of a cataclysmic event in the lives of the protagonists. Is there anything to the film without the jitters? A bit of a love story in the form of an unedited home movie. A fun experiment that manages to hold the attention  unexpectedly well, but at the cost of some queasiness. ***

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