By complete coincidence (see Jordan's review below), I saw Cloverfield last night with I'mnotMarc, who was seeing it for his second time. The first time he saw it he got a gnasty headache, so we prepped accordingly with big bottles of water, some pre-emptive advil, and for me some caffeine. All this meant I had to pee like three times during the movie itself, but fortunately I had someone who'd seen the flick with me and I missed none of the monsta action. We also picked a seat near the back and the theater wasn't too large; all these precautions pretty much neutralized any adverse shaky-cam reactions. I had to look away from the screen once or twice, but that was about it. A major factor I hadn't really considered is that all of this is shot from one camera, which made it quite different from, say, Bourne Supremacy, in which you're dealing with a lot of shaky-cam plus lots of jump cuts. Even Blair Witch had the two...
Anyway, the movie was great. Having chugged the entire run of Lost over the past month, I was able to spot some of the trademarks of J. J. Abrams' simple, effective narrative style. The opening scenes at the party lay down the character foundations: Rob (the guy who's leaving), Beth (the girl with whom he's got a tangled past), Jason and Lily (Rob's brother and his fiance), Hudson (the goofy dude behind the camera), and Marlene (the cool chick Hudson totally, amusingly fails to impress). Having seen the trailer as many times as I have, I'll admit I was sitting there saying "get with the monster already!" But this is the stuff that grounds the unfolding story once the screaming starts, and I thought it played out very well. They even employed a version of Lost's flashback device, as the camera is Rob's own, and the night is taping over a happy day he had with Beth a month before. Occasionally the scenes of dark terror are poignantly split with scenes of a bright, sunny trip to Coney Island.
About the monster action it's tough to say anything except that it's really, really good. It is indeed a 9/11 movie; after the Woolworth building goes down the rolling cloud of dust and the dazed, dirty people walking around could have come straight from the street footage of that day. I thought perhaps it was strange how often our little band encountered the monster ("Was it following them?" I asked afterwards), but I think the real deal is that the critter is just so immensely HUGE, if you're anywhere in town you're bound to cross its path. One second it's blocks away and the next it's on top of you. As such the destruction is terrible and glorious, the thing is just too big to squeeze down Manhattan streets without knocking down all kinds of shit.
Added to that are the mites falling off of it, horrible little bundles of legs that hit the ground scrambling. Some tastily satisfying footage is spotted early on, when the gang's inside an electronics store that's being looted and the news is blaring from several TVs. One reporter's voice rises delightfully fast from a detached "can you see there's something coming off of it, Bob?" to "Ahhh! Oh my god!"
So why four and a half stars and not five? It's a matter of my own personal taste, but I just wasn't digging the design of the monster as much as I'd hoped. The mites were great, but the big guy not so much. The anatomy was definitely alien, and I respect how that contributed to the confusion and terror of the action, but... I just didn't like it. Some of the many fake-o images that popped up on the net (see below) would have been better. Then again, that's just me. Personally I'm amazed I managed to avoid having that surprise ruined for the two weeks since Cloverfield came out. (If you want to see the monster yourself, check out this clip that was recently released. It's an excellent taste of the flick's high-pitched terror. The actor who plays Hudson is so clearly freaked out as much by all the guns going off as by the monster.)
Anyway, I echo Jordan's sentiment: highly recommended, just don't sit too close.
And you won't be seeing any of these: