Today I braved the frigid Toronto weather and went downtown to see Cloverfield. The film is told entirely from the point of view of a single video camera, and begins at a going-away party for hip young Rob on the eve of his departure for a big job in Japan. As his pal Hud documents the party we get a voyeur's look into Rob's conflict between taking the job and staying to try to win back his girlfriend Beth.
A lot of reviews say these characters aren't interesting, and I would tend to agree. The most clever aspect of the storytelling involves the fact that the mayhem is being filmed over a used tape. This allows "gaps" in the filming, where we get to see snippets of what was on the tape before, filling in the backtory of Rob and Beth. Trouble is, there's no backstory to see, wasting an ingenious narrative device.
With nothing invested in these characters, there is very little tension or emotion to be found once the city starts crumbling. Rather than a story it plays more as a demonstration of clever storytelling techniques, and on that level it succeeds. I've read other reviews slagging the monster, but for me he worked well enough. At under 90 minutes, it's a brisk, enjoyable ride, but it could have been so much more.
After the film, my friend took off immediately to make a train, leaving no time for discussion. This is somewhat fitting. We neither laughed, nor cried, but we did kill 90 minutes. Nothing more to discuss.