The story and a lot of the elements within it is a patchwork of other horror and alien films blended together, but the cinematography, editing, and special effects give this film a raw and real feeling that surmounts any clichés in the plot points.
Like with all horror films, this is about a group of young people, never children or the elderly, running from danger, in this case, some crazy large monsters. What starts out as a roof-top party in lower Manhattan descends into chaos when the Statue of Liberty is decapitated.
Five friends initially are thrown into a 9/11 situation. This time, it's at night. The city is under attack, but, the characters, as well as the audience, are not sure by what. All we know is that there have been partial power outages and skyscraper destruction.
Producer JJ Abrams (Mission: Impossible 3 and Lost), who visited Japan, wanted to do an American version of Godzilla. Director Matt Reeves slowly reveals that monster until we're face-to-face with it, live and up close.
Imagine taking your little mini-DV digital camera and recording one of your last happy days with the woman you love, and then the night of your going-away party, your best friend records over that day with what will become the unhappiest day of your life, not entirely, but in breaks and jumps that stop and start. If you can, then you can imagine how Reeves wanted this film to look.
Yes, comparisons to The Blair Witch Project are obvious, but this is like that 1999 film, but with far better acting and far better visual effects. I could bore you with the details of the soap opera, "Felicity" or "Grey's Anatomy" like drama that sets up this movie, but I'll just say it's brief, which is a plus, and the actors sell it well enough, which includes some improvisation, to make the rest of the film convincing.
I'd hate to say it, but the camerawork here, which in many instances was the actors holding prosumer digital camcorders, gathering actual shots used in the movie themselves, rivals the Oscar-nominated camerawork of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
I mention that French-language, Oscar-nominated film only because both utilize a technique rarely used in major motion pictures. Both have the device of making the cameraman one of the main characters. The camera lens is actually the eye of a person in the story, and not just for one or two short shots. It's real point-of-view, subjective filmmaking that makes the audience really feel into the story and a part of it. It's as close to virtual reality as you can get.
The Diving Bell utilized it for about the first hour of that film. This one utilizes it for the entire experience. Reeves said his camera-style was inspired by Children of Men (2006), which embraced long one shots that followed intense action scenes like car chases and gunfights. The director also said he prepared by watching a lot of Youtube videos. Believe it or not, a lot of people in the age-group of the people in this movie are posting videos online in abundance, and Reeves wanted a feel of their level of camerawork.
Reeves maintains a guerrilla filmmaking, as well as cinema-verite feel to this whole production. At the same time, he and his crew incorporate some big budget touches. There's a bridge attack scene, which recalls Spielberg's War of the Worlds (2005), as well as monster encounters that could have been pulled from Stephen King's The Mist (2007) and Ridley Scott's Alien (1979).
There are also some truly original moments, as the 20-somethings make their way through Manhattan, including a somewhat inspired journey into a New York skyscraper turned into a leaning Tower of Pisa.
Five Stars out of Five
Rated PG-13 for violence and terror
Running Time: 1 hr. and 24 mins.