In short: Better than I expected – not as good as I hoped it would be.
Like The Blair Witch Project, the first person camera gimmick wears out its welcome about two-thirds into its runtime and strains even my almost fathomless credulity for science fiction stories. It also doesn’t help that I didn’t care whether a single character lived or died, save one (Lizzy Caplan's Marlena) – another of Blair Witch’s failings.
But when Cloverfield works, it works pretty damn well. The early scenes of destruction, before the characters know who or what is attacking the city, are terribly effective. I don’t know how I feel about the filmmakers purposely emulating the imagery and emotion of 9/11. Part of me thinks it’s a cheap exploitation of a tragedy, the other part of me very much understands the need to turn fear and pain that’s all too real into something so fantastic, so outlandish, and so unreal that it could never, ever possibly happen. And it’s not like Cloverfield is the first piece of speculative fiction to use 9/11 or America's military and political response to that day as story fodder – but it’s certainly the most obvious, the most direct.
Which makes it…