Still too scared to venture into the realms of movies made before the turn of the millennium, this week I shall be reviewing Cloverfield (2008), a J.J. Abrams-produced, non-epicly epic, science-fiction monster film. It follows a small group of 20-something New Yorkers as they try to survive an attack on Manhattan by a huge, unidentified monster. And that’s about it really.
Now, this film, more than perhaps any other that I have come across, has divided opinions of the masses to the absolute extreme – the ultimate marmite movie, as people either tend to love it or loath it. Well, I perch my round buttocks firmly in the section of the former, but allow me to reveal some of the more irksome features that have been voiced.
The entire film is shown through the lens of a handheld camera, filmed by one of the lead characters and yes, at times it can be quite annoying, as all you want is to be able to see clearly what’s going on, but personally I think that adds to the intrigue. Throughout the viral marketing campaign for this film, and indeed the opening 45 minutes or so, we see very little of the monster, just the odd tentacle or roaring head before it or the camera swoops away. Most horror films make the mistake of showing the ghost, ghoul, demon, monster or killer in their entirety, which loses a lot of the intimidation factor. Take Mama (2013) for example, where, for most of the film, the audience is left in quiet terror as they catch just the smallest of glimpses here and there of the demonic entity, right up until the moment where it’s Bo-Selecta-esque appearance is presented on a pink-ribboned platter. Game over.
…To these naysayers, I simply give you this: Who cares?!…
Cloverfield doesn’t make the same mistake, and saves any reveal of the monster until the closing minutes, but even then, we’re hardly treated to a full-scale, labelled diagram. Which brings us nicely onto the next problem that some people have expressed their displeasure at – What the hell is this thing and where did it come from?! To these naysayers, I simply give you this: Who cares?! Can’t you just enjoy a 200 foot-tall monster attacking a city without questioning it’s zoological heritage? If you have such a problem with this monster, then why isn’t similar discontent voiced about the technical engineering of a lightsaber? Or the physiological possibility of having knives protrude from between a man’s knuckles?
The fact that virtually no information is forthcoming regarding the origin of the film’s protagonist, means that we watch every minute of it that much more closely. When I put on Cloverfield again to refresh my memory for this review, I did the usual thing of playing Candy Crush while I watched, and where I would normally end up devoting the majority of my attention to mixing a couple of special sweets together, I found that my phone screen constantly blacked out through lack of interaction, as my eyes were transfixed by the action on my TV instead – even after the dozen or so times that I’ve now seen the movie. What better advert for the film than, “I’d rather watch it than try and move onto level 411 on Candy Crush”, eh?
…Nothing about Cloverfield is indulgent…
A third talking point amongst Cloverfield’s negative reviewers is the sheer dislikability of well, literally all of the characters in the film, and on this occasion I do find myself agreeing somewhat. They’re pretentious, up their own arses and dull-witted – typical Abercrombie & Fitch turds living off of daddy’s trust fund and putting nothing meaningful back into the world. That’s the intelligent, well-informed conclusion that I came to, at least. But actually, I think it works. If they were perfectly formed, three-dimensional characters then the film would actually suffer, as the audience would engage in the human side of the story rather than just enjoying a cool, popcorn flick. Nothing about Cloverfield is indulgent, it makes no attempt to do anything other than entertain the audience for it’s duration, leaving aside the pompous writing, complicated plots and crowbarred exposition. Instead we’re treated to a believable story of a group of friends trying to locate and save another amongst the chaos and destruction, which is much more interesting than the usual zero-to-hero-nobodies-saving-the-earth-against-all-odds storyline that we are all too familiar with nowadays.
One final criticism that I have seen and heard made of Cloverfield, is that it lacks originality, simply a forgery of ideas from Godzilla (1998) and The Blair Witch Project (1999). This argument really gets my gander up as, for starters, saying that a film is a combination of two others, by definition means that it isn’t devoid of any originality. Furthermore, this viewpoint would suggest all giant monster stories are a copy, whilst any movie that employs the use of a diegetic handheld camera viewpoint, is mimicking Blair Witch. What garbage these people do speak.
…because stylistic choices are there to make a more interesting medium…
Indeed, the Myrick/Sanchez-directed horror was the first successful implementation of using a small video camera in cinema, but by the same principle, do we see the use of RealD 3D in movies as a rip-off of Avatar (2009), just because it was the first film to make the most of it? Of course we don’t, because stylistic choices are there to make a more interesting medium, not just one production – and the more movies they improve, the more people will be entertained. Cloverfield is by no means copying Blair Witch, it simply takes a very unique feature and utilises it for the enhancement of the film. So there.
In conclusion then, you can see that Cloverfield has come in for a lot of criticism from certain audiences, and of course, it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, flavour of ice cream or particular brand of vodka. But those intelligent enough to see that it is not intended to be a tent-pole, blockbuster movie, and actually a more interesting and altogether authentic storyline amidst a CGI-orientated genre, will certainly enjoy what it has to offer.
If you do find yourself more of a hater than a lover though, just spare a thought for poor T.J. Miller, who was cast as one of the principal characters in a J.J. Abrams monster sci-fi movie, only to discover that his character will in fact be the one behind the camera for 99% of his filming duties. Poor lad.