Thursday, July 7, 2011

Cloverfield (2008)

 Do The Monster Mash!


- I generally do not enjoy horror films. I do not enjoy being scared and I do not understand how others can possibly enjoy being scared. However, I do generally like Cloverfield for what it is - a cheap monster thrill - and heck, it sure does deliver that, though not without many moments of eye rolling.

After twenty minutes of party scenes featuring drinking, gossip, relationship problems, and a bunch of guys acting like the Golden Girls, the film ignites and does not stop burning until the credits roll. J.J. Abrams said that he wanted to create an American form of "Godzilla" with Cloverfield, one that would not only scare but also become part of the popular culture. I do not think that Abrams' goal is achieved in the end however. Godzilla is simple yet thrilling in a classic way: it is a giant fire-breathing lizard. This monster in Cloverfield is indescribable and complicated: it is some sort of bat-squid-dog-lizard-bug-alien-I dunno thing. The monster even has a supporting cast with all those mini lizard-bug things that eat people and make them blow-up!

Abrams did one thing right in that the monster is arguably cool-looking and scary, but it is not some kind of iconic creature for the ages. Yeah.... Not much longevity here with this monster, I think; it is just creative and memorable enough to be a passing fad.

The way Cloverfield is filmed is almost creative, filmed through what is supposed to be a home video camera - only this one has surprisingly good picture quality. The film is interesting in how the story is told through what is supposed to be camcorder footage of our characters experiencing the monster-melee in New York City that is discovered and being watched by the U.S. Army. However, the home video look of the film has whispers of The Blair Witch Project (1999) throughout - with some scenes actually screaming The Blair Witch Project (i.e. "I'm so scared....").
Still, the home video look does give Cloverfield a very realistic feel. Sure, it also helped that much of it was actually filmed in New York (they actually crossed half of Brooklyn Bridge) but I think that the film's point of view of the single camera view operated by the same character (Hud) creates a feeling inside the viewer that they are actually experiencing what is on film and are subsequently more connected to what is happening on screen.

Although, for not knowing how to really work one of those camera things, Hud is a surprisingly good camera operator! It really is quite remarkable how he kept the camera looking straight ahead during the vast majority of the times he was running or climbing up unsteady structures. It is almost like he is a professional camera operator....

The film's story is as simple as every other monster movie - everything is status quo until a monster comes out of nowhere and starts destroying everything and killing everyone. Naturally, the history major in me wants to know what lead up this monstrous event and its effects on the world. However, because the film is only shown through the lens of one camera, the film does not give any kind of backstory and my thirst for knowledge is left unquenched.

Cloverfield is a thrilling ride; visually, that is. The special effects are indeed great (outside of a few scenes featuring the mini monsters that clearly look like they are computerized graphics) and make the movie worth the price of admission/renting. There are some great shots of the CGI monster blowing up CGI New York and eating CGI people - it is a scene, man.

And, make no mistake, Cloverfield is all about the special effects; one will not find much in the way of thespian wonders, rich characters, memorable dialogue, or breathtaking emotion. That is not to say that all of the performances are terrible; in fact, I would say that all of the main actors in the film do a good job - perhaps not über great performances here but they are almost cream-of-the-crop performances when compared to the rest monster/horror films.

Cloverfield does suffer a little from some of your more typical horror film woes though, stemming mostly from the writing department: predicable outcomes, cookie-cutter military characters, and worn-out horror film lines.

One scene in particular features the main characters seeing a hoard of rats running in their direction in a subway tunnel and muttering "they're running away." Then someone did it - someone actually responded with "from what?" Excuse me? "From what"? Are you seriously asking that question? Where have you guys been the past movie? IT'S THE MONSTER! You morons.... No, you know what? Don't run away - you're too stupid to survive the movie!

Cloverfield is not a cinematic masterpiece by any means, so do not hold your breath if you are hoping to see brilliant screen writing, acting, cinematography, or other aspects of a great film (unless you can hold your breath for 85 minutes, then knock yourself out). But if you want to see a cool monster flick, Cloverfield is a-calling.

CBC Rating: 6/10

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