CloverfieldBen Feldman
Medium: film
Year: 2008
Director: Matt Reeves
Writer: Drew Goddard
Keywords: giant rampaging monster, horror, SF, cinema verite
Country: USA
Actor: Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman, Anjul Nigam, Margot Farley, Theo Rossi, Brian Klugman, Kelvin Yu, Liza Lapira, Lili Mirojnick, Ben Feldman, Elena Caruso
Format: 85 minutes
Series: Cloverfield
Website category: Horror modern
Review date: 28 April 2009
Wow, I liked that far more than I expected. It loses steam towards the end, but until then it absolutely had me. The film had sounded intriguing when it hit the cinemas back in 2008, but then I started having second thoughts.
You see, I don't like the likes of Independence Day, War of the Worlds or even Mars Attacks. Obviously these films aren't without their points of interest, some more than others, but fundamentally for me I don't think they work. If you've got aliens invading Earth, why in the name of all that's holy should I care about what happens to a bunch of useless humans, their children, their neighbours and (worst case scenario) their pets? Look, the little doggie got saved! Gee, ain't that swell. Someone blast the yapping thing with a shotgun.
Cloverfield sidesteps all that and as a result becomes, for me, pretty much the first honest entry in its genre. You see, it's only superficially an alien invasion movie. Fundamentally it's a disaster flick, except that instead of a fire or a plane crash, it happens to involve a slimy extraterrestrial stomping through New York. For almost the first time I can remember in a movie like this, the useless cannon fodder characters are being taken seriously. They're what the film's about! It's their story. They're running around like idiots in the middle of all this chaos, thinking with their groins and getting themselves killed, but that's fine. You're on their side. Obviously we in the audience really came to see the Cloverfield monster tearing up New York, but fundamentally this would have been the same story if they'd cut-and-pasted the monster with a Towering Inferno or an iceberg striking the Titanic.
Hmmm. Spider-aliens biting people's heads off and making them explode would have made Titanic a better movie. But I digress.
The first fifteen minutes are monsterless. Instead we meet our cast, who seem like a nice enough bunch of people and include some astonishingly good-looking women. Yowzers. Jessica Lucas, wow oh wow. It looks as if Reeves and Abrams cast a bunch of TV actors rather than movie stars and I'd just like to say that for this they are geniuses. You see, conventional acting is rendered moot by the movie's other big gimmick, i.e. handheld vomit-cam and the pretence that this is recovered footage rather than a movie. People aren't being framed properly half the time, anyway. The main thing is that the cast manage to preserve the illusion of realism, which for me they achieved. It might seem a bit implausible that everyone at Rob's party is so good-looking, but I find that tends to be the way things work. Gorgeous people can often be found hanging out with other gorgeous people.
Besides, anything that gives the world more Jessica Lucas must by definition be a good thing.
The character work is light and thin, but that's kinda what the film's aiming for. The artifice is of artlessness. The stupid cameraman can be funny, with his inability to understand the word "no" and his fondness for zooming in on pretty girls and cleavage. My kind of man.
This is where we come across the film's other good idea, which is that the footage was being recorded over another tape, tiny snippets of which we occasionally see. I liked that too. Fortunately they don't get too cute with it.
Then the alien stuff hits and it's a real "what the hell was that?" This is where the movie becomes almost mindless, not to mention terrific. Our heroes go running like idiots around Loathsome Lovecraftian Alien Attack Ground Zero, because a boy wants to help a girl. Hey, it worked in Shaun of the Dead. All this is awesome. The scene with tanks and stuff where the army opens fire on the Cloverfield monster is more effective than any other example of its kind I've ever seen, because it's being shot from the point of view of ordinary people who simply want to get the hell out of there. The monster sheds scuttling things which do exactly what you think they're going to do. Hehehehe, cool. The scene with the rats is great too, since you know exactly why they're running away and hence what must be coming.
The movie loses it a bit in the last ten minutes, which is why I went away with slightly furrowed brow when I'd earlier been hooked. They don't really have an ending. The film simply runs out of people to kill, although note that the death toll isn't what it looks at first. There were two helicopters, remember? For my money, this would have been a better film if they'd cut the last ten minutes and instead had the TARDIS materialising in Beth's apartment. Well, I'd have laughed. "Hello, I'm the Doctor. I see you've got a bug problem."
I love the idea of this film, but I can also see why they released it in February. To be honest, it's barely a movie. The DVD has an 80-minute running time of which the last eleven minutes are credits. Cut a further ten minutes from the end of the film as I've suggested and you're looking at a Doctor Who Christmas special. That's what this is. It's a cool TV episode, but more expensive. Not as much as you'd think, mind you. This was not a big-budget film. Arguably that's even the single production factor that makes it so special. It has an awesome monster, but that's mostly because we never get a good look at it and realise that in the cold light of day it's no King Kong or Godzilla.
My favourite thing about this film involves the last bit of accidental footage, showing two of the characters some days earlier when everyone was still alive. Apparently in the background on the right of the screen, you can see something big falling from the sky into the ocean. I'll have to look out for that next time.