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Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

CLOVERFIELD is the first big event movie of 2008 and boy does it deliver! Exciting, bold, controversial and innovative, this is a monster movie that packs a mightily impressive roar.

Told from the point of view of a group of friends as they attempt to survive a monster attack on New York, it’s shot using hand-held video cameras and unfolds over the space of just one night. As such, it’s a new kind of blockbuster – one that successfully merges the low-budget, indie approach of The Blair Witch Project with the spectacle and jaw-dropping carnage of films like Independence Day and Godzilla.

What’s more, thanks to an ingenious viral marketing campaign and some clever teaser trailers (initially marked under the banner Untitled JJ Abrams Project) it arrives with most of its mystery still intact and off the back of a record January opening weekend in the States.

The film picks up at a farewell party for Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David) that’s attended by friends (including TJ Miller’s Hud and Jessica Lucas’s Lily) and potential love interest Beth (Odette Yustman). Midway through, however, the apartment is rocked by an explosion and the decapitated head of the Statue of Liberty flies by.

What follows is a desperate battle for survival as the friends attempt escape New York and the ferocious monster that’s on the rampage.

A lot of the fun in watching Cloverfield unfold is the uncertainty that lies around almost every corner. By populating the film with unknown stars and refusing to give way to predictable sentiment director Matt Reeves has created a suspense-filled roller-coaster ride that barely lets up for a second.

And while the hand-held style might take some getting used to (and could well leave many feeling nauseous) it adds to the grim authenticity of what’s taking place, virtually thrusting each viewer into the middle of the action.

Just occasionally, the film tiptoes the line of good taste, particularly in its depiction of the devastation of New York in sequences that are eerily reminiscent of 9/11, but viewers will probably get so swept up in the excitement they’ll be having too much fun to notice.

And the set pieces come thick and fast: whether it’s an underground attack in a subway tunnel that’s fast, savage and extremely brutal, or a thrilling helicopter sequence late on.

Perhaps most clever is the way in which the director deploys the camera, for we only ever catch glimpses of the beasties and only ever find out as much as the heroes, which serves to heighten the sense of mystery (a la Ridley Scott’s original Alien) and guarantees there’s plenty to talk about afterwards.

But we also get to care for the characters, especially the likes of Stahl-David and Yustman, whose everyday qualities easily appeal to our sympathies.

Cloverfield won’t be to everyone’s tastes and many will find its camerawork jarring, but for anyone who thinks the monster/disaster film is past its prime, then this demonstrates how you can inject fresh ideas into a well-trodden concept and entertain, exhilarate and frighten all at the same time.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 85mins
UK DVD Release Date: June 9, 2008