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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

CLOVERFIELD (article first published : 2008-02-20)

Not since The Blair Witch Project has the internet been so abuzz with interest, frustration and false leads over a Hollywood movie as it has with this new film produced at a reported cost of R210 million by Lost creator J J Abrams.

It all began when a trailer, ending only with a release date and the name “J J Abrams”, caught the US public imagination some months ago. That trailer shows a group of young people partying in a high-rise apartment block when suddenly a roar rocks the building to its foundations.

The party people rush to the rooftops to witness fireballs coming from the sea, leading to chaos, panicking crowds in streets and the sudden shock of the head of the Statue of Liberty being hurled down a road, like a bowling ball– by something obviously large. End of trailer.

Abrams recently told Empire magazine he sat back and smiled at the consequent furore online: “We had these tentacles growing off in every direction. There was whole level of narrative being told before people had even seen the movie.”

There are those who will hate this film, directed by Matt Reeves and written by Drew Goddard, as it is entirely shot with a hand-held camera – and intentionally poorly, with badly framed images and more shakiness than Shakira on a Power Plate machine. The reason for this is that, essentially, we are seeing the work of an amateur camera man recording horrific events as they unfold, starting with him reluctantly videotaping farewell greetings for a mutual pal at that party mentioned earlier.

This part of the film tends to overstay its welcome but, just as things get a little boring, the tension arrives with a walloping bang. We then become part of the hysterical crowds that try to escape a Manhattan under attack by something large and relentless. It’s a creature we see only in short glimpses as it rampages through skyscrapers and drops off spider-like offspring that attack people while the military, police services and firemen try to rush to the rescue as best they can.

Special effects are excellent and the sense of raw urgency, of gritty realism, is brilliantly achieved - one scene involving a collapsing skyscraper and people desperately trying to escape from a billowing cloud of debris. It’s straight out of the 9/11 horror.

The film, featuring a cast of unknowns, left some at a weekend matinee frustrated, others exhilarated and a good few viewers annoyed at the giddy camerawork.

But, all considered, Cloverfield is certainly innovative and intense, brings real tension back to the cinema and gets my vote as a worthwhile matinee treat. Just one parting shot – how did the battery in that video camera work for some six hours or so? Rating 7/10 – Billy Suter




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