J.J. Abrams has done it again. Once again, I am in awe of what one person can conceive of and create with his closest compatriots. Yes, at its core, Cloverfield is a monster movie in the same vein as Godzilla. However, what makes it so spectacular is that it's the first truly American incarnation of the genre. To be honest, Godzilla, Mothra, and the rest of the cuddly crew of chaos never appealed to me much because their reigns of terror were way too over the top for my taste. Abrams, director Matt Reeves, and writer Drew Goddard have found a way to walk that fine line though, mainly through their utilization of the "Blair Witch" technique.
For the sake of brevity and your enjoyment of this picture, I won't go beyond two details of the story:
1. Yes, you see the monster and you shouldn't be disappointed unless you have an intense hatred for science fiction/fantasy. In my viewing, a group of five or so high school guys left upon immediately seeing the creature. However, since I'm guessing you probably aren't trying to maintain your image as a badass, you'll probably be able to stay stomach it. The CGI is done well and, for those LOST fans out there, this monster is much more terrifying than the infamous "Black Smoke".
2. Yes, the movie utilizes Post-9/11 imagery. I refuse to say it "exploits" such imagery though because to truly scare our current culture you need to use it. 9/11 is the defining moment of our generation. Everyone has their "Where They Were When Bambi's Mother Was Shot" story because we have no scarier memory than watching the World Trade Center collapsing without one clue as to why. Cloverfield captures every bit of that terror and more. It has to. It's how you scare us now-a-days. If you were in New York City on 9/11 or somehow connected to the events, you may want to avoid this film. I know a bunch of people connected to 9/11, but have only been to NYC a few times and still had difficulty dealing at times. It's not sad (except for a couple points). It's simply scary.
And when I say scary, I mean the following: Cloverfield is the most horrific movie I have ever seen. An eerie tone is combined with just the right amount of jump moments to make the terror both psychological and immediate. The true triumph of the movie though is the realism it portrays. The characters seem like people you could actually know and spend time with, and even though you just met them at the opening party, you still care about them. Cloverfield lulls you into a sense of security and familiarity for 15 minutes and kicks your ass for the following 60. Yeah, it's reminiscent of 9/11, but that's why it's so terrifying.