Reviewer's grade: B+

Godzilla, meet the Blair Witch. As a mash-up of old-fashioned monster flicks and low-budget indie filmmaking, "Cloverfield" hinges on a gimmick, but, as gimmicks go, it's shlocky fun and "? best of all "? effective. The central conceit is that we watch the events unfold from the limited perspective of a camcorder. Sure, the novelty owes more than a little to 1999's "The Blair Witch Project," but whereas that flick used the "found footage" shtick to create the illusion of menace, "Cloverfield" uses it to heighten the sense of urgency. And it works.

With a gigantic monster smashing New York into smithereens, we follow a small group of upwardly mobile 20somethings as they struggle to survive amid collapsed skyscrapers, decimated bridges and mass hysteria.

In the end, the enigmatically titled "Cloverfield" is still subject to B-movie conventions, particularly with cardboard characters, but it pulls through as a slam-bang ride rife with chills and thrills. PG-13

"?Phil Bacharach