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Before you can tackle the question of whether or not Cloverfield is worth your time, you have to tackle the issue of motion-sickness. At the screening Fanboy Planet attended, we confirmed that four audience members had to leave to vomit, and twenty others had to step out for fresh air.

So if your interest is high in this film, take your Dramamine. It's not that Cloverfield breaks new ground in on-screen gore; it is, after all, surprisingly rated PG-13. Director Matt Reeves commits hard to the film's conceit of being one hapless bystander's recording of "the Cloverfield Incident," and the resultant shaky hand-held camerawork can often get too much. Logically enough, cameraman Hud (T. J. Miller) spends a lot of time running and panicking, swinging the camera around trying to figure out what's going on and what's worth recording.

Eventually, anyway.

The biggest weakness of attempting this cinema verite comes from a need to believably establish characters. As a result, Drew Goddard's script requires that we watch a lot of boring party footage, interspersed with the videotape's original subject, one perfect day between nascent lovers Rob (Michael Stahl-David) and Beth (Odette Yustman). Those cross-cuts are meant to lend poignancy to the proceedings, but the perfect dramatic timing of them stretch the limits of credibility.

Though well-done, it's occasionally difficult to swallow the conceit, especially as some characters behave in a manner obviously done for a plot's sake, not for what would actually happen. To some extent, this includes the disturbingly unrecognizable monster, who isn't so much wreaking havoc on Manhattan as seeming to pace a cage of about twenty blocks, the better to always be where the five main characters happen to be trying to escape.

Still, Reeves effectively scares the living crap out of us with the fear of the unknown, and how helpless people are in the face of such superior force. It's no original or sharply keen observation to note that in the wake of 9/11, we understand the effects of devastation much more sharply, and Cloverfield reflects this well. The slow yet devastating shock waves of dust and rubble wash over characters. It's hard to even realize the minutiae of destruction, but Reeves and his crew capture it well.

As for the helplessness, that, too, works to fill the audience with dread. It isn't just a huge creature lumbering around; wherever it's from, it also has parasites that drop down and realize the streets of Manhattan are a veritable smorgasbord. In one absolutely chilling scene, we catch a glimpse of the consequences of surviving their attack, though Hud and crew never get an explanation of what exactly happened.

And that may be the most frustrating element of Cloverfield, the very thing that makes its gimmick sound so cool. We'll never know just what exactly the hell is going on. Sure, in real life, that's the way things work, and it drives people to conspiracy theories and the like. For a monster movie, however, no matter how cool, it's a little frustrating to have an incredible creature reduced to nothing more than a Macguffin.

Cloverfield clearly has a larger narrative at work. From the opening titles, we know that the military supposedly recovered this camera, a la The Blair Witch Project. In that conceit, we also have the implication of huge devastation after the film ends. But if I'm going to risk the contents of my stomach at a movie, I want something more than a cool gimmick - I want a cool story.

Perhaps the DVD will have another section of documentary that covers it, but for now, it's annoying and vaguely unsatisfying to have to wait with beating heart and sour breath.

Derek McCaw

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