AVAILABLE ON DVD: Now
RUNNING TIME: 81 mins
Reviewed by: Dr Lenera
Rob Hawkins has taken a job as a vice president for the Slusho company, which means he has to move to Japan. His brother throws him a surprise going-away party inviting all his friends. When Beth, with whom Rob had a brief fling, turns up with a date, there is a row and Beth storms out. Just then, a violent shake jolts their apartment building. Rushing to the roof, they see explosions and some creature destroying buildings. Rob receives a text from Beth that she’S in her apartment and badly injured, so he decides to save her. The rest agree, even if it means venturing across half of New York while the monster is still on the rampage….
I said this in my Battle: Los Angeles review and will say it again – I’m not a fan of what’s known as ‘shakycam’. I can’t see what’s going on, at the cinema it sometimes gives me a headache or makes me feel sick, and its employment often just seems ludicrous to me -for example, when I run, I don’t have an epileptic fit whilst doing so. Nonetheless, I do agree that it is artistically justified in ‘found footage’ films [though I still have problems with it – more on that later!] such as The Blair Witch Project, Quarantine and this effort, which is in my opinion one of the best. I remember the buzz surrounding Cloverfield when the teaser trailer [which had been shot before proper filming had began] played before Transformers, featuring the Statue Of Liberty’s head being thrown down a street. Websites began to be flooded with random info from producer J.J.Abrams about things in the movie, but for a while it was hard to piece much together. Most of the cast auditioned without even knowing what they were auditioning for and were only given a script when they first walked on set, while the film itself was shot under great secrecy under the titles Slusho and Cheese. With all this, it’s no surprise that it was a hit. As a big fan of Godzilla, I was personally very happy to see that the Americans could make a good movie from the concept [Oh how I still shudder at the horror of the Roland Emmerich travesty!].
For that’s basically what Cloverfield is – a kaiju movie from the point of view of a few characters caught up in the monster’s rampage; ordinary young people, people more like us, or at least more like we once were – rather than scientists, or the military, or the government. Or should I say, one particular person who films everything and whose MiniDV recording [the film runs exactly the length of a MiniDV tape] is supposedly found by the military. The first twenty minutes, the section set at the party where we meet our major characters, is none too interesting and in fact I found it a little tiresome – it has the feeling most of us have probably had when we are at a party but are not really enjoying being there and feel isolated. Nonetheless things soon kick off with the tremor and that great scene on the roof where our protagonists [and us] see, in the distance, an explosion and a very briefly glimpsed creature. Once on the ground the sense of panic is fantastic and, as things fall and people run, it’s obvious that 9/11 is being evoked without being explicit about it [in much the same way as the first Godzilla evoked the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945]. Our heroes run from one dangerous situation to another, from a bridge being attacked to an apartment in a skyscraper which could fall any minute. There’s one underground sequence where they are attacked by small creatures which reminded me of the ones in Aliens, while the employment of night vision makes the whole scene reminiscent of The Descent, though it’s nowhere near as scary. There’s some military action which, as with the remake of The War Of The Worlds, happens in the distance but you get a sense of what is going on. The climax isn’t too original, especially if you’ve seen a certain Italian ‘video nasty’ from 1979, but it was probably the best ending that they could have had considering the concept.
The way the main monster is handled is superb. For the first half, it’s seen in almost subliminal glimpses, usually moving behind a building, then in the second half is shown more clearly, though still not that often and rarely in full. The actual design of the creature, as a kind of humanoid alien thing with arms like insect legs, could have been better but it’s not really the most important thing in the movie anyway, as opposed to Godzilla or King Kong where the monster is shown constantly and in great detail because it’s the star of the film. The centre of the film is whether its characters survive or not, and, after a while, we actually start to really like them and worry if they make it or not. Early on Rob is told off for his boorish behaviour to Beth and to never let go of the ones he loves. His danger-strewn trek to save her seems to be his way of atoning for his previous bad attitude, almost an act of self punishment. Now I will say that the use of the ‘shakycam’, though I’m personally not too keen on it, does help convey a sense of realism though, as with all movies like this, there are moments when the person filming proceedings would have been better off putting his camera down and helping someone! The supposed realism is sometimes totally thrown away elsewhere as well – one character impales herself on a metal pole and a couple of minutes later is walking around quite normally!
Director Matt Reeves shows a tremendous sense of pacing in this movie; it doesn’t really pause for breath but it doesn’t need to. The promise he showed on this film was partially fulfilled with Let Me In, his rather pointless but very good remake of Let The Right One In, which had an entirely different feel and tone to Cloverfield. I think that in the future he will make some real masterpieces. Now the acting in Cloverfield is fairly weak, but sometimes [Night Of The Living Dead is a good example], this can actually work for the movie in question, it makes things seem real. Great performances, or performances that seem very rehearsed, may have seemed out of place. There’s no music in the film except for the end credits – a wise choice. All in all I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Cloverfield. It’s a relentless thrill ride that, for the length of its duration, does almost make you believe what you are watching, and if afterwards things don’t seem quite so great in retrospect, isn’t that the case with many movies?