Cloverfield can best be described as The Blair Witch Project meets Godzilla. I wouldn't be surprised if those were the exact words used when the idea for this movie was first pitched to studios. Cloverfield's main conceit is lifted directly from Blair Witch - a video that was recorded by a group of missing people during a series of traumatic events is discovered and played back unedited so that the audience can witness the events leading to the group's disappearance. Blair Witch has more going for it than Cloverfield, the biggest of which is the fact that it was a novel concept. From the very start Cloverfield has a "been there, done that" vibe to it and the rest that follows is simply not strong enough to carry the film beyond that.
Cloverfield begins as a bon voyage video for a young businessman about to leave New York to take an executive position in his company's Tokyo office. We know right from the start that we're watching a fantasy, because Cloverfield's world is one in which young and impossibly good-looking, twenty-somethings live in lofts overlooking Central Park and hold executive level jobs while acting as vacuous as a group of teenagers who have a ways to go to reach emotional maturity. The film makes you suffer through all of the inane party chatter in a futile attempt at character development, but only succeeds in making you wish the monster would hurry up and get there and start killing off the whiney and annoying partygoers.
Once the monster inevitably does arrive, those prone to motion sickness are done for. The camera shake is so pronounced that the movie is sure to induce nausea in a significant portion of the audience. When watching the film it seems that the shaking was made more pronounced than it naturally would be on purpose, as if the director felt that he needed to continually remind the audience with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the head that the action was supposedly captured live by a handheld video camera. It's also likely that the shaking is an intentional distraction as well, because without it it wouldn't take the audience long to realize that the actual story itself is fairly mediocre even as far as monster movies typically go.
Cloverfield is a pretty short movie, and when you take out all of the pre-attack nonsense you're left with barely an hour of story. The thin plotline that features a few friends traveling across a Manhattan under siege to rescue another one of their gang trapped in her apartment is more of an excuse to set-up the film's special effect set pieces than to involve the audience in a compelling story. Those looking for any part of the story to be brought to any kind of closure will find only frustration.
Suspension of disbelief is a given in monster movies, but in Cloverfield that suspension will be taxed more heavily than a Swedish citizen. The size and strength of the monster are completely inconsistent throughout the film, and the amount of destruction caused by the monster after an hour in town is completely implausible - and in spite of all of this destruction and resultant panic the city's cell phone network continues to work flawlessly. Then there's the fact that the Army has managed to move an entire armored division into the city as well as set up large-scale triage centers an hour into the disaster although there don't seem to be any of New York's police or firemen around, or the vast majority of the city's millions of citizens for that matter. And to top it all off we have to listen to the inane dialog of our supposed heroes as they manage to run into the monster at every turn. One character remarks at one point, "That thing tried to grab me! What's up with that?" What's up with that, indeed?