finally here, Cloverfield has found us.
Adjectives like "intense" and "visceral" are thrown
around quite a lot in movie reviews. By design, movies are trying to elicit
an emotion from the audience, so should a monster movie fail to be intense,
it would be an altogether failed endeavor. No worries here, though. Matt
Reeves' Cloverfield is every bit as "intense" as the
dictionary would have it defined. Last week I detailed the film's extensive
viral advertising campaign, now it's time for the full review.
It goes without saying, I'm about to spoil this sucker more than the hot
summer sun on a cup of yogurt. Read at your own risk.
The Blair Witch Project was
released almost a full decade ago. Considering its low budget/high profit
formula of handheld, mock home movie filmmaking, it's surprising to me that
it has taken this long for studios to attempt a mass-market follow up. Love
or hate this style of uber shaky, down in it camera work, director Matt
Reeves' Cloverfield has proven that it still has potential for both
commercial and critical success.
In Cloverfield, a going away party for everyone's main dude, Rob
(Michael Stahl-David), turns into a nightmare after a giant monster begins
assaulting New York City. As the panicked citizens attempt to flee the
midtown hell, Rob, his best friend, his almost sister in law, and a random
party goer trek towards the creature in an attempt to save Rob's one time
girlfriend who he is apparently still in love with. Their terrifying journey
is captured on film via a camcorder they take along because, as it's put it
in the film, "Someone will want to see how it all went down."
At first glance, one might think Cloverfield is just another throw
away teen horror flick where a group of clichéd and highly unlikable
punks get picked off one by one by some supernatural entity (see Aliens
Vs. Predator - Requiem), but thankfully this couldn't be further from the
truth. I must admit that I was starting to get scared at the beginning
there...not because of the suspense of knowing all kinds of death was about
to go down, but because it felt like I was watching some hipster's home
movies. If I wanted lame reality, I'd watch some lame reality TV show. Before
this "Baaaw, the girl I love is with another person" fest can
overstay its welcome however, the ground starts shaking and the Statue of
Liberty head is flying through the air. Heck yeah.
I will say this, though...the cast of pretty, 20-something, relatively
no-name actors is a lot more likable than to be expected. With no
recognizable faces to found, the illusion that you are watching an unscripted
social gathering is rarely broken. Moreover, despite the occasional,
obligatory tension-breaking attempts at comedy, the dialog between the actors
comes off mostly as extemporaneous and complete with natural 'um' and 'uh' pauses.
Alright then, the camerawork--how does it work? The answer is surprisingly
well. With stories flying around of viewers getting nauseous and throwing up
because of it, I will say that the handheld way this movie is shot is
definitely not for everyone. If you complained about the shaky cam style
featured in recent action films like The Bourne Ultimatum, you're
going to be outraged with Cloverfield. Though on the upchuck scale,
I'd say Beowulf with the 3D glasses was far worse. And plus, it isn't
long before you forget about the gimmick and lose yourself in the intensity
of the plot and special effects.
Yes, this style of filmmaking is a gimmick. Would Cloverfield be just as good were it shot traditionally? Probably
not. It certainly wouldn't have received as much hype or created this much
controversy if it had. In the same way 2006's A Scanner Darkly
wouldn't be as entertaining without its 'rotoscoped' style, Cloverfield
will rub film-as-art purists the wrong way. But when a gimmick adds as much
flavor and originality to a movie as this does, I can look past any
shortcomings in plot or design that it may be trying to cover up.
By now you probably want to know what the damn monster looks like. I wish I
could describe it to you, but doing so would be about as futile as describing
a Rorschach blob. With so many fake concept sketches having made their way
around the 'net in the weeks prior to its release, I went into Cloverfield
with a pretty good idea of what to expect from the monster...and wow was I
completely and utterly wrong. Because of the first-person perspective, you're
never given a very clear view of the creature for any meaningful period of
time, but from the look of it, it’s a twisted amalgam of limbs and
features ripped from Earthly creatures with no real pattern. To make it even
more dangerous, smaller Starship Troopers wannabe bug things fall off
of its back...a bite from which will cause the victim to explode for some
reason. In the movie the thing is described as "something
terrible." I say it's ugly as sin. In either case, it’s a
shrieking mess of a monster as far from Godzilla's likable cuteness as
Though in the vein of M. Night Shyamalan's Signs, the monster isn't so
much the core of Cloverfield's story. Akin to the Shaun of the Dead
formula, it's a love story that just so happens to have a giant monster
kicking the shit out of the city. Alright, the monster may not be that
unimportant, but there is an extreme lack of information presented about its
origin and motivation. For those that didn't follow any of the viral ad
campaigns prior to watching (detailed in my part 1 Preview), you will be just
as lost as to what is happening as the hapless cast. But even then, despite a
few Easter eggs for Slusho and Tagruato, nothing in the virals is referenced
in any meaningful way. And if you were looking forward to finding out what
the title means, you will be disappointed.
At 97 minutes, some may consider it a bit short. But considering the
relentless pacing and handheld style, I thought it felt like at least twice
that length. As I said at the start, this movie is intense. Don't let the
relatively small budget fool you--Cloverfield is jam-packed with
incredible suspense, heart pounding action sequences, and emotional plot
twists at every turn. I found my neck stiff afterwards due to being left in a
constant state of on-edge alertness, always looking for another brief glimpse
of the creature.
An unforgettable in-theater experience, it felt like I was really watching
something special. Expect people to still be talking about it for many years
Cloverfield - Directed by Matt Reeves
Rated PG-13 for intense action sequences, some shocking gore, and mild language.
Rating: 4.5 / 5 (9/10, 90%)