A monster is terrorizing New York?  Been there, done that.  Except not quite like this.

The mega-hyped “Cloverfield” might end up being remembered more for its mysterious viral ad campaign than the film itself, but that
doesn't mean the film is anything to sneeze at.

“Cloverfield” succeeds first and foremost because it goes to the absolute extreme of realism.  Well, as real as you can make a monster
movie, I suppose.

The film depicts a single handheld camera from start to finish as a group of friends’ document their struggle for survival after an attack on
New York City, top choice of giant monsters everywhere.

The film opens with a title card stating where the camera was recovered, as if it is exhibit A in some government archive.

After we establish some characters as they celebrate a going away party, all hell breaks loose.

We are thrown into complete chaos as New York is turned into a war zone.  The choice of handheld cam is especially effective here.

Director Matt Reeves does a pretty solid job of keeping the camera realistically active, while still maintaining enough framing to illustrate
what the heck is going on.

And that is one of the reasons the film works better than, say, “The Blair Witch Project.”

The other reason it exceeds that level of amateur filmmaking is because “Lost” writer Drew Goddard’s screenplay develops characters that
are realistic enough to fit alongside the handheld camerawork, yet spares us some humor, mostly from the man behind the camera, the
awkward Hud.

The dialog certainly devolves into “Oh my God!” and “Did you see that?” from time to time, but what else are you going to say in those
situations?  At least it isn’t the entire screenplay, a la the aforementioned “Blair Witch” stinker.

Despite its low-budget feel, “Cloverfield” sports some pretty darned good visual effects.  Everything from the destruction to the monster
itself looks great.

Unfortunately that’s almost a hindrance to the film.  As always in these types of films, things are a lot scarier when we don’t see them.

I watched a presentation given by “Cloverfield” producer and “Lost” creator J.J. Abrams talking about how effective “Jaws” was because
you almost never saw the shark.

Perhaps he should have followed suit, we see the monster fairly early on and while I think it’s a cool design, it’s really not that scary.

Unfortunately, also falling prey to the genre standards, the ending isn’t quite as revealing as we hope it to be.  I don’t want to spoil
anything, but you probably get my drift.

But despite these failings, “Cloverfield” is a lot of fun.  The action is lively, the effects are good, and I genuinely felt for our band of
characters.  This is a testament to the previously mentioned screenplay, and the genuine performances of the entire cast.

As we watch these lives fall apart, we can’t help but guiltily keep watching excitedly.  And that’s why “Cloverfield” is worth seeing.

* * *
(out of four)
Directed by: Matt Reeves

Written by: Drew Goddard

Starring: Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. MIller, Michael
Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman

Cinematography by: Michael Bonvillain

Music by: Michael Giacchino

Released: January 18, 2008; 84 Minutes