“A group of friends venture deep into the streets of New York on a rescue mission during a rampaging monster attack.” — IMDb
I first saw this movie maybe a couple years after it came out, so this was a re-watch for me… and I had forgotten how TOTALLY AMAZING THIS MOVIE IS. Like… shockingly good, really. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I am a huge fan of the “found footage” style of horror, but this might be the best example of it that I’ve personally seen. It’s terrifying, it’s chaotic, it leaves you breathless in some scenes… it’s just well done. It’s the first in a series of three movies that are all part of the Cloverfield franchise. I think they did the series in an interesting way — it’s not a movie plus two sequels, but rather three movies that all take place in the same alternate universe.
The storyline is fairly basic, as I think a movie like this needs to be. A bunch of friends are at a going away party for Rob (Michael Stahl-David), who is moving to Japan. There’s some typical drama at the party itself (and it’s a bit slow and painful to muddle through) but it’s later on when things start to get really crazy as the party-goers hear experience what feels and sounds like a brief earthquake followed by a city-wide power outage. They all head downstairs to the street to see what’s going on and it’s just pure chaos. They start to realize that some kind of monsters — some massive and some small — are attacking the city, and it’s a rush to escape alive.
** SPOILERS! **
Like I said, this movie is just a thrill ride from beginning (well, almost beginning) to end. I really think the “found footage” style — the feeling that we’re right along with them — adds significantly to how much anxiety and panic you feel as you’re watching. When they first hear the “earthquake” and go downstairs to find a street full of people all wildly speculating (was it an earthquake? a terrorist attack? was that it, or will there be more?), you feel like you’re among the crowd. It was very reminiscent of the videos I’ve seen from the 9/11 terrorist attacks, in a way — just blind fear and trying to piece things together as you go, which is terrifying when you have no idea what you’re running from or where is safe to go. And then DOWN COMES THE HEAD OF THE STATUE OF LIBERTY and it’s very Escape From New York and pretty cool.
The scene where people are SPRINTING to get away from the massive debris cloud rolling their way is… well, again, very 9/11, which I think just naturally strikes a nerve in all of us. It’s this massive, inanimate object that is hurtling towards you and everyone tumbles into buildings and they’re somewhat safe even though the sheer force of the cloud implodes the windows. Just… insane.
The combination of just sober disbelief, sirens wailing in the distance, seemingly everything (and everyone) covered in this layer of white snowy debris, military barking orders from helicopters, the sound of explosions echoing off the skyscrapers, the inhuman roar of some kind of monster shifting from building to building… it’s like you don’t even know where to look or what to focus on, and on top of that you can hear the cries of fear and panic from the group you’re following (which I think they did very authentically).
I really preferred when they kept the monster(s) more vague… just glimpses here and there. As is often the case with monster movies like this, looking too long at them can take the mystery away and make them less impactful. Just seeing a tail crashing into the Brooklyn Bridge is effective… but when they stop in the store and watch the news cast and see the smaller monsters, it’s still crazy but you can kind of see the seam in the special effects and it takes me out of the fantasy a little bit.
One of my favorite scenes is when Rob is on his way to rescue Beth (the forgettable Odette Annable) and they get caught in the crossfire between monsters and military. It’s just explosions and gunfire and a freaking TANK and I mean… if you weren’t glued to the TV for that there’s somethin’ wrong.
Everyone talks about the tunnel scenes and they were okay but… I dunno, I preferred them out on the streets, personally. It was a bit creepy when they noticed the sea of rats coming their way and quickly pieced together that something else must be following closely behind… but I guess the small, feisty monsters didn’t have as much of an impact on me as the big guy.
But when they go inside the department store and the military guides them to the outpost and then Marlena (Lizzy Caplan, who bugs the crap out of me) starts bleeding from her eyes because she was previously wounded by one of the tiny monsters and it’s just CHAOS as they rush her into quarantine… that scared the HELL out of me. It definitely plays on one of my biggest fears in general — some kind of outbreak where there’s CDC in hazmat suits all around — but imagining her utter panic and helplessness as they rush her away from her familiar group is intense. And it was brilliant how they got her riiiight behind the curtain and then “pop!”… she explodes. Oh man. My jaw was on the floor.
I also really liked when they finally saved Beth and had gotten into the chopper for rescue and then BOOM, monster’s comin’ atcha and the chopper is spinning out and it is C H A O S, just screaming and praying, as they are hurtling toward some uncertain future. That was really the last cool scene before the kind of cheesy monster slurping up the man behind the camera, Hud (T.J. Miller), or the definitely cheesy exchange of I love yous between Rob and Beth (gag).
Overall, a really awesome, action-packed, genuinely scary “found footage” gem!