'Cloverfield' a monster success

LIZ BRAUN - Sun Media

, Last Updated: 6:26 AM ET

All that tiptoeing around and whispering comes to an end today as the mysterious Cloverfield finally opens in theatres.

The creature feature, promoted in a stealth campaign that built tremendous curiosity among movie-goers, will remind you of both The Blair Witch Project and War Of The Worlds, but it gets much of its real impact from current events.

As you watch people panic and run in absolute terror down the streets of Manhattan in this movie, it is impossible not to think of the events of 9/11.

"What does the creature look like?" is the most-asked question about Cloverfield -- but it's the wrong question.

The movie works because it's populated by people you learn to care about. What the monster does to their lives counts more than what it looks like (although, since you asked, it looks fierce, okay?) The Blair Witch-y conceit of pretending the whole thing is being shot on somone's handycam is physically and emotionally unsettling -- all the better to make you anxious with, my dear.

Cloverfield deals in anxiety, not to mention anticipatory dread and nameless, primordial fears.

It all begins with an official government statement on the screen, noting that what you're about to see is from a tape discovered at an "incident site" formerly known as Central Park. Formerly???

The story centres on Rob (Michael Stahl-David) and his friends, all of whom appear to be in their late 20s.

Rob is taking a job in Japan (yo, Godzilla!) and there's going to be a going-away party for him, thrown by his brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and Jason's girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas).

Rob's buddy Hud (T.J. Miller) gets stuck taking video testimonials from people at the party, which puts the camera in his hands for what follows. The other characters who count are Beth (Odette Yustman), a girl with whom Rob has fallen in love, and Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), a party girl who turns up at Rob's farewell bash.

The party is in full swing when something begins going berserk in the streets of Lower Manhattan.

The party spills out onto the sidewalk (out of necessity) and after that, the main characters are on the run for survival.

They change their route, going into the subway tunnels and moving away from other people to go on a rescue mission.

The technical heart of Cloverfield -- that home movie thing -- creates the emotional heart of the story, too, keeping a viewer right in the thick of all the action.

When the characters crouch in the street, terrified by the monster's roar nearby and the screaming of air force jets overhead, you're right there beside them with your hands and knees on the concrete.

Shots of New York being blown apart are almost all from that personal, ground level, shaky home-movie point-of-view; it's suffocating.

The claustrophobic layout of Manhattan is almost a character in this thing.

At any rate, there's an intensity about Cloverfield that never lets up.

Monster movies aren't generally known to be wildly intelligent, but Cloverfield is smarter than the genre usually allows. (New Yorkers don't drive, which means this may be the only creature feature ever made that lacks a car that won't start at a crucial moment.)

The filmmakers wisely avoid showing you everything, instead showing only bits and hints of what's going on, a technique that really fuels fear in a viewer.

The less you know about Cloverfield going in, the more you'll enjoy it, and we hope we've been suitably vague.

Friends don't tell friends how a movie ends.

(This film is rated PG)


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