-- Aldous Huxley
“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception”
-- Aldous Huxley
The genius of 2008's Cloverfield isn't in what it shows you, but rather in what it doesn't. By parceling out looks at the creature slowly and only ramping them up significantly near the end, it has time to invest you in its story while you're just trying to figure out what the thing looks like. Produced under a heavy veil of secrecy by producer J.J. Abrams and director Matt Reeves, none of the actors were told what the project was, screen-testing with scripts from Abrams' previous works "Lost" and "Alias". Filmed in the style of "found footage" it requires all the suspensions of disbelief normally required for that genre (in real life, this thing gets filmed for the first 30 minutes at most before the camera is put away and survival becomes the priority). If you can get past that though, you're left with a movie that rescues the "creature-feature" genre (at least stateside) from extinction (pun intended). While at times, the acting falls a little flat, it's at least passable enough that it never detracts from the overall ambience.
The movie follows a group of six friends trying to stay alive in New York as it is attacked by a giant monster. Throughout all of this, it is "filmed" by Hud, the goofball of the group who was originally just in charge of filming the going away party of Rob when the attack began. After the partygoers are lured outside by explosions in the distance, the severed head of the Statue of Liberty comes careening into their street. Fun fact: the originally-accurately proportioned head had to be increased in size by about 50%, because audiences said it was too small to be the real thing when the first trailer was released. The idiocy of test audiences aside, the film managed to overcome my usual disdain for "found footage" and actually tell a compelling story. It doesn't suffer from mind-numbing plot holes like "How exactly was this footage found?" (The Blair Witch Project, The Last Sacrifice) and the movie asking us to accept that the characters continue filming isn't quite as egregious as in others (Diary of the Dead). Along the way, there's plenty of unexpected twists as this is not the same old monster movie with a different looking creature swapped in.
Due to the financial success of the film, a sequel has been at least somewhat planned for a while. Abrams and Reeves talked about ditching the found footage angle, or perhaps even just exploring the same attack from a different point of view (at one point, Hud is filming someone filming him, an intriguing point for possible overlap), but given the pending release of Godzilla it would most likely have to keep the found footage angle and do something wildly different with its iteration to get the audience's attention. Still, between Abrams production, Reeves direction and the inspired creature design, this movie deserves praise for recovering from 1998's Godzilla to get people interested in "kaiju" films again (2005's King Kong definitely doesn't count as a "monster" movie).
A creature-feature that revitalizes the genre though it suffers from the implausibilities of "found footage"