And so, after a pretty tantalising and successful viral marketing campaign, Cloverfield arrives on our screens. It was clear from the start that this film would be a blockbuster of some kind, with a huge catastrophic event taking place in New York City. Something that would go so far as to leave the Statue of Liberty decapitated, and her head hurled into the city. As plot details trickled onto the net, it became clear that Cloverfield was a monster movie. But not a monster movie like Godzilla. This was a guerrilla monster movie, shot like The Blair Witch Project.
The plot for Cloverfield is pretty thin. But unusually, this works in favour of the movie. Instead of trying to be something it’s not, Cloverfield sticks to the spectacle, and doesn’t get bogged down in politics, subtext or allegory. The film is presented as a video tape that is found after the New York disaster. We’re given little introduction to the film, instead just being shown the tape. The first twenty minutes or so introduces us to a bunch of twenty-somethings. They’re gearing up for a going-away party for Rob, who’s been offered a job in Japan. Inter-cut with this is footage of Rob and Beth, shot a month before the party, who have just spent the night together. Something their friends aren’t aware of. During the party, Rob and Beth have an altercation and she leaves. Rob, his brother Jason and their friend Hud, who’s filming the events have a talk on the balcony. At this point you begin to wish things would just take a turn for the worse and the monster would attack. And it does. Everyone decides to flee Manhattan. But Rob gets a call from Beth who is trapped under a wall in her apartment. So he, Hud and two girls decide to head back into Manhattan to rescue Beth.
The style of Cloverfield is going to split audiences. The format, which is almost like a home-movie will annoy some audience members. Nothing is clear, with all the footage hand-held, shaky and frenetic. We rarely get a clear shot of the monster, which is something I think adds to the film. By shooting the film in this style, it feels more frantic and immediate. There’s little let-up in the action and it’s all about the chasing. Had the film been shot as a conventional movie, we’d have ended up with another snooze-fest comparable to Roland Emmerich’s 1998 piece of crap, Godzilla. That’s not to say that this approach is flawless. There were one or two moments when the camera was pointed away from the action and I found myself almost shouting at Hud to turn the damn camera around.
While the lack of story does benefit the film, it also leaves us with little emotional connection to the characters. The opening twenty minutes is a little slow, and the characters do become a little annoying. I suppose this is all right as the filmmakers are just lining up the fodder for the monster. When the characters do start getting picked off (this isn’t a spoiler, it’s monster movie. People are going to die) you’re more concerned with HOW they die rather than who dies. Maybe that’s a symptom of my desensitisation towards movies, but the point still stands. There’s little for the actors to do other than to run around and look terrified, and they do this adequately.
The monster itself is the real draw of the film, and I didn’t think it disappointed. It’s is HUGE. And it’s pretty indestructible too. It’s pretty amusing to watch the army march towards it, firing their guns at it, to absolutely no effect. There are parasitic monsters that drop off the monster and attack people. While this seems tacked-on, I can understand why it was added to the film. The monster is so big that it would be impossible for it to engage with the characters other than just to stomp on them. So the addition of the little monsters brings the action to a more personal level.
While there are some plot contrivances that boarder on the ridiculous, on the whole, Cloverfield is a pretty entertaining movie. It’s refreshingly brief too, clocking in at only 85 minutes. Short and sweet, it’s by no means a perfect movie. But it achieves exactly what it sets out to do, and provides some fairly tense moments. It suffers some of the same set-backs The Blair Witch Project suffered from. But it’s a better movie than that. The effects are great, the action’s frenetic and it’s short enough so that it doesn’t suffer from having to add in too much filler. Solid entertainment.