The first 'reality blockbuster' is a winner. Cloverfield is a lean, brisk roller-coaster of a monster movie, buoyed by the lack of story gimmicks and absurd characterizations that weigh down most movies of this ilk, no offense to you personally Mr. Broderick. In the aftermath, it will dawn on you that it's actually quite traditional -- every character has an arc -- but it doesn't feel that way. Nor does it feel like 'found footage', but something in between. Watch the prologue carefully, as our narrator/cameraman, whose point of view we'll share, is trying to make a standard going-away party commemoration tape interesting by sniffing out some sex gossip and self-consciously creating his own drama with a girl who wishes he'd get lost. This guy has filmmaking instincts, and when circumstances change and he becomes a 'character' in a disaster movie, he goes with it. He's not just pointing a camera -- he's making Cloverfield: The Movie. Ten years ago, we would have said 'it's not realistic that this guy would keep the camera rolling,' but those days are long gone.
Again, there's no pretense of reality here -- the 20-something party people who we meet and whose lives are flipped by the arrival of the monster are all as pretty and as vapid as anyone on Laguna Beach and they never become less glamorous as the movie goes on -- no one is caught in need of a snot-rag, ala Blair Witch. Among the main characters are Rob (Michael Stahl-David), the guest of honor at the party who is leaving for a new job in Japan, Beth (Odette Yustman) his ex-girlfriend who he still has feelings for but would only admit it if, say, her life were in mortal danger or something, and Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) whose quiet, wide-eyed demeanor and gruff sarcasm make her a bad candidate for 'Survivor Girl.' As the advertising will tell you, some characters will live and some will die but you never know when and where and one death is so shocking and inexplicable I wish very much that I hadn't already seen it a hundred times in the movie's 'give everything away' advertising.