Cloverfield's premise is pretty simple: a monster has attacked New York at some point in the recent past, and, on the night of the attack, a bunch of beautiful young people were running around Manhattan, documenting said night with a video camera. The entire movie is thus a faux documentary, Blair Witch style, and features a camera that bobs, spins, weaves, twirls, falls, and scrambles away from danger as our 5 intrepid adventurers make their way through Manhattan to a damsel in distress (Spoilers: It doesn't take long for there to be less than 5 adventurers, etc).
I was unfamiliar with everyone involved in this production, with the exception of producer JJ Abrams, and I came away impressed with 3 of them. First the writer, Drew Goddard or, rather, whoever came up with this high concept setup, because it works beautifully. Secondly, none of the actors particularly distinguish themselves (the girls are generally better than the super-bland guys) except, ironically, T.J. Miller who as the cameraman Hud provides a steady stream of commentary while obtaining probably less than a minute of total screen time. Miller comes off as a low-rent version of whoever your favorite witty but fratty comedian is (Will Ferrell, Seth Rogen, etc) and made the whole thing watchable. Finally, working with what must not have been a great deal of money, Phil Tippett created a pretty terrifying monster - something that can't have been easy, given our decades of not being frightened of Godzilla-style giant monsters.
Amid all of the Oscar hoopla, it was nice just to watch unknown actors run around scared while shit blew up. I do hope that they resist the urge for a sequel, because the camera gimmick has no chance of working twice, and making a conventional movie set after the initial attack will just bog down in all of the origin mystery and how-do-we-kill-it scenarios that this film so skillfully avoided. Also, I should note that zombies get to try their luck in a similar handheld camera horror picture coming soon - Diary of the Dead, directed by zombie-master George Romero.