Director – Matt Reeves
Writer – Drew Goddard
Starring – Michael Stahl-David, Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Mike Vogel
Originality is pretty hard to come by in movies nowadays. In particular in the action/blockbuster kind of areas. It’s usually the same stuff recycled over and over because it’s safe, predictable and comfortable to the masses. Cloverfield aimed to and has succeeded in breaking that trend for at least the time being as it is an exhilarating, involving and sometimes downright scary new take on the monster movie, and to steal a quote from many different people, “it’s a monster movie for the YouTube generation.”
The film revolves around a group of people throwing a party for a friend who is soon leaving for Tokyo. In the middle of the party an earthquake-style rumble is felt and heard and everyone makes their way to the roof to see what’s going on. They soon find out that there is some sort of giant monster attacking the city and that their lives are severely in danger. Because of a friend who is still stuck in the middle of the city they decide to make their way there to save them.
What drew me to this film in the first place was curiosity. The genius marketing campaign, overseen by Lost creator J.J. Abrams, of the first trailer having not given the name of the movie and just the general “hush-hush” approach to it all had me eagerly awaiting the film’s release. The film had a lot to live up to in terms of satisfying the audience members after all this mystery and hype has been built up. And in my opinion, although it isn’t a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination, it accomplishes in fine style what it set out to primarily do; entertain.
Although the movie does borrow some ideas here and there (most notably from films like Godzilla, including a shot of people getting crushed by the monster’s foot, among others) it is generally an innovative and original take on the monster movie. The whole film is filmed from the point of view of the group of friends and we see the film through the view of a video camera. When I first heard about this style of shooting I was sceptical but it started to grown on me. During the first few minutes of the movie I had a real problem with the hand-held technique and the amount of shaky cam which bothers me if done hap-hazardly. But after about five to ten minutes I completely got used to the approach and done in any other way I think would take away the point and focus of the film.
What makes the hand-held technique, at first bearable in every way, and so well done is it brings an extreme sense of realism to the whole thing. Normally in a monster movie we would get full shots of the monster, the camera swivelling and flying between buildings and other places it naturally wouldn’t be able to go. With Cloverfield, however, we see it like a home movie and as a result the film seems believable. Sometimes it’s so real that that aspect becomes actually genuinely frightening. You feel almost if you walked out of the cinema then and there you would find the monster trundling through your city. This kind of dead realism is hard to accomplish, especially in the movie society today, and I loved that Cloverfield managed it.
Something which might annoy or even outrage some movie goers, in fact a lot, is the fact that it remains a mystery what the monster is and why it’s in New York City. People have come to expect from movies like this that we get scenes of scientists and military men trying to figure out what the monsters is and by the end we are all in the know. With Cloverfield we never find out, there’s just a monster attacking the city so deal with it. I for one thought this was one of the best aspects of the movie, the sheer guts and attempt at being original by not letting us in on just what the hell this creature is.
In the style of United 93, the film uses mostly, if not all, unknown actors to the fill the roles of the people we see on-screen most of the time. No doubt they have appeared here and there in a couple of small movies and TV shows but they aren’t A-list actors or celebrities. This, again, adds to the realism of it all and allows us to invest ourselves in these characters instead of watching someone like Tom Cruise or Matt Damon trying to survive this giant monster attack. We think of these people as the characters they are playing and not the actors that they actually are.
Like I mentioned the movie obviously isn’t perfect. It may be a bit unfair bashing the movie for some of it’s weaknesses if you take into account what kind of movie it is and what it’s aiming to be but in a review I must. First of all some of the extreme realism created is kind of broken in a few scenes because of the way the film is edited. What we are watching is supposed to be a tape, ‘property of the US government’ as the movie states at the beginning, and we are supposed to be seeing it as it happened. And yet in a few scenes the tape will cut back to a month or so beforehand to remind us the main characters love for the person he’s attempting to rescue. It happens not enough to dampen the movie but enough to be noticeable. And also, and this is probably the biggest weakness, is the glaring question of why are they still filming? If there was a threat like this in real life you would be running for your life rather than worrying about capturing it on video. Even though I was involved and feeling all these different emotions I still had this question in the back of my mind the entire time.
Overall the film is one of the most purely enjoyable cinema experiences I have had in a while. It’s a film worth making the trip out to the cinema to see rather than waiting for it to be released on DVD. If you like to just lose yourself in a film then this is one hell of a cinematic experience to take. It delivers in what it was trying to accomplish and any my opinion should satisfy the excitement and curiosity of the movie going audience. In a nutshell? Cloverfield is a flawed but thoroughly enjoyable time at the movies.