Okay lads, another movie review, this time for the insanely over-hyped “Cloverfield” (at least insanely over-hyped over at Ain’t It Cool News). To cut to the quick, the movie is decent, but it is not scary and it is not groundbreaking. If any of you have seen the Gamera films directed by Shusuke Kaneko, you’re already familiar with the theme depicting how the “common man” is effected by a giant monster (albeit not taken to the extremes that “Cloverfield” does). So while the film had slight ambitions by utilizing the shaky-cam, first-person style, it’s nothing that you haven’t seen before if you’re a fan of monster movies.
And oh that shaky-cam. I’m the kind of person that gets “car sick” playing FPS, so I went in with great trepidation. “Blair Witch Project” didn’t bother me, but I rented that, so I only saw it on the little screen. Taking advice from aintitcool.com, I sat pretty far away from the screen, which helped, but there were times when the camera was bouncing around so frantically that I had to look away for a few seconds to keep my lunch. You young whipper-snappers may not have this problem since you were raised watching bouncy video camera footage of yourselves growing up – but I’m from the Polaroid generation, so crazy-ass camera jostling gets me in the gut. So if playing Unreal Tournament makes you queasy, you are advised to sit in the upper rows.
So – the film’s gimmick and modus operandi is the shaky cam footage. Does it work? Yes. The script was written to fit the busy camera and while the story is a bit thin, it works, and offers more emotional impact than many horror films attempt. I’ve seen people complaining that the cast does pointlessly stupid things to allow the story to be told, but I disagree with this assessment. Yes, the protagonists do behave stupidly – but that’s what people do when in a crisis (and if you don’t believe me, you’ve obviously never been in a crisis), so it didn’t feel forced to me.
At its base, “Cloverfield” is a love story, as many great traditional monster movies are (such as King Kong, although “Cloverfield” wisely makes the love story about the human characters and leaves the behemoth to be a deadly force of nature). Something most slasher flicks need to learn is that if we see characters love one another (rather than just having sex with each other), we’ll care more about them and the movie as well. “Cloverfield” scribe Drew Goddard was well aware of this distinction and puts it to good use here. While some may not connect to the “yuppies” that star in this flick, there were more than enough human moments in this tale to make me care about the stars. The device of interspersing old video camera footage with the monster-movie footage works well to establish the main character’s relationship and makes the story believable. This is probably the film’s greatest achievement, establishing an almost completely believable scenario to the point that we can suspend our disbelief and accept that a big ole beastie is taking apart the Big Apple. That said, the early scenes of buildings crumbling and debris smoke filling the city streets are so reminiscent of 9/11 that the movie came off as cheap emotional exploitation. I imagine anyone seeing this movie that lived through that real life horror will be traumatized. Such are the effects of realistic, shaky-cam footage.
The cast is terrific, which is an accomplishment considering how difficult it can be to emote effectively while the camera is out of focus and bouncing around like a feather in a hurricane. And the monster? Well, they worked hard to keep its appearance a secret during the pre-release viral marketing campaign, and that was a good idea. We only get a few really good views of it at the end, and it was more threatening before we knew what it looked like. Of course, we have to see the monster in a monster movie (otherwise the flick would have to be called a “psychological thriller” or something), so they had to show it – but I thought the design was pretty weak. The bits and pieces we see early on hint at something out of a Lovecraftian nightmare, what we get is something that would fit in a FPS – a first-generation FPS. It just isn’t that cool looking, which was a disappointment.
All in all, if you can take the camera work, it’s worth seeing. No, it ain’t groundbreaking, but it is entertaining. I didn’t love it, but looking back, I really can’t come up with much that would have improved its formula. “Roller-coaster ride” is an apt comparison if you apply it to a coaster that you’ve been on before, as there are lots of moments of quiet anticipation followed by violent crescendo, but no real surprises or scares. The introduction is a bit slow, but it does create the necessary characterization to humanize the cast and make their “stupid” motivations believable. The interludes between the monster mayhem effectively create atmosphere. I wasn’t crazy about the conclusion (I thought it was over twice before it actually was), but it did end as I anticipated it would – which was more gratifying here than annoying (as it was in AVP:R). It’s a good flick if you’re willing to buy into the protagonists’ behavior, and I didn’t have a problem with that.D.Berger