Cloverfield

January 24, 2008 at 1:09 pm | Posted in Media | 15 Comments

A friend’s 16-year-old brother recently called Cloverfield the best movie he has ever seen, which of course is not true for me, but I can certainly see where he is coming from. It is refreshing for a film that is as hyped, as slickly marketed, as talked about, and that opens as big as Cloverfield did to not end up a disappointing work devoid of all merit beyond being a pop cultural phenomena. It is a visceral and exciting bit of filmmaking that leverages the culture of young Americans (youtube, melodrama, the angst and confusion of post-9/11 life) to tell a monster-eats-Manhattan story in a fresh way. The films verite style works really well and does not feel gimmicky or contrived but rather genuinely increases the tension and creepiness of the story. It certainly is one of the better examples of 1st person perspective working in cinema that I can think of. I’ve also heard the film called a “one trick pony,” and to be fair it does feel that way at times but when the trick works as well as the obfuscating camera-work in Cloverfield does how many more tricks do you need? But there are a few others up Cloverfield’s sleeves, perhaps not tricks as much as conventions and gotchyas, be enough to keep you huddled in your seat and ready to jump.

The films flaws, first in mind being the horror-film stupid characters, were down-played enough to not impact my enjoyment of the legitimate scares which come, more often than not, through the films reference to one of the most horrifying moments of our real lives. I speak, of course, of 9/11. Not including the Hollywood pictures about 9-11, none of which I have seen, Cloverfield deals with the horror and anxiety of the attacks more directly and better than any film in recent memory. I can only imagine the impact it has on the teenaged populace that the film was marketed so heavily towards. My friend’s brother was 8 or 9 when the towers fell. Certainly old enough to realize that a momentous evens had occurred that would change his life, but I don’t know how much understanding a 9-year-old could have as to why zealots flew planes into our buildings or how exactly things were going to change. Hell, it is hard enough for adults to understand, as the war in Iraq will attest to. Then to spend nearly half your life living in “post 9-11 society” only to be confronted by a monster movie that frames that tragedy in a way that is both cinematically novel, as well as in your own generation’s visual language (again: DV, Youtube, etc,) must have been extremely powerful. And clearly it has resonated very strongly with the teens that I’ve talked to about it.

And that is obviously the true strength of the film. Not the ‘cheep’ scares, rare gory moment (though those were all extremely effective,) or even impressive VFX monster but the perspective it offers on such a culturally significant event. Monster Movies have always been about our fears as any Essay on Godzilla will tell you. It is important to note that Cloverfield doesn’t “play off” of 9-11 or “subconsciously evoke” it, as I’ve read in other review, but rather trades in the fears, horror, insecurity and confusion of 9-11. While the monsters origins are clearly stated in Godzilla, the ‘whys and hows’ of the giant and horrible monster that rises from the sea in Cloverfield are hardly touched on, and frankly don’t really matter. It is the destruction and sorrow left in its wake that is important. A direct reflection of our paranoia that amorphous and poorly defined terrorists could strike anywhere, at anytime, using any one of a number of horrible weapons that the media shows us at every opportunity. This allusion to the millennium’s defining event is Cloverfield’s greatest strength and what will set it apart from the scads of monster blockbusters that will inevitably get produced once the WGA strike ends, as well as the best reason to go out and see it.

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15 Comments »

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  1. BRAVO John.

    I think you completely nailed what this film is really about.

    Very insightful. Thank you.

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