Monster movies, or at least big monsters in movies, are about destruction, usually of cities, and about how small we are in the face of them. They’re similar to disaster movies in that way — hurricanes, earthquakes, tidal waves and tornadoes all make us feel insignificant and powerless, which has certain psychological comforts.
Cloverfield is the name given by the US military to a catastrophic alien event in Manhattan, and from the beginning we know the found footage we’re watching is classified. Rob and Beth have broken up because Rob has a new job in (amusingly) Tokyo. They meet again at his leaving party in a Manhattan high rise with their new partners, and just as we discover they might get together, explosions rock the city.
I saw this in the cinema when it came out, and I remember feeling frustrated at the shaky camera and sparse glimpses of the monster. Actually, you see quite a lot of the monster, and I wonder if I was overwhelmed on the big screen, or if I was comparing it to films like Godzilla or King Kong, where the creatures are very much on display. You have to really focus on what’s happening if you want to see the alien here. I could have done with less twenty-something relationship drama in the first thirty minutes, but it does give Rob emotional stakes to go back to the collapsing building for the finale. Not that that does him any good.