January 20, 2008

REVIEW: Cloverfield (C)

Background: Though it was a successful online/social networking campaign for the mysterious Cloverfield (named after an L.A. freeway exit), the secret came out early enough that it's simply a monster movie. Directed by Matt Reeves (writer of TV's "Felicity" and Under Siege 2: Dark Territory) and written by Drew Goddard (TV's "Lost" & "Alias"), Cloverfield stars a diverse bunch of good-looking young people who you've never seen before. The gimmick is that the whole film is supposed to be confidential government footage recovered from a camcorder recovered at the area "formerly known as Central Park." Ooooh...

Synopsis: The movie has no music, starting from the beginning. Seriously, it's "government property," with a confidential stamp and all kinds of "official" A/V garble. Anyway, we meet Rob and Beth, hot best friends who have recently become a couple (they had a one night stand?). Rob, all of maybe 22 years old, is the Vice President (why?) of some unnamed company that is relocating him to Japan. Footage of Rob and Beth on their dreamy date is cut off by a live recording of Rob's going away party three weeks later, which is where the story starts. Beth shows up with "Travis," Rob is crushed, Beth storms off, blah blah blah. After watching what feels like about 20 minutes of MTV's "Real World," a rumble shakes through Manhattan, followed by explosions and, shortly, the head of the Statue of Liberty rolling through the streets. Our narrator and videographer is Rob's friend Hud, the kind of idiot sidekick that would be ridiculous (and strong) enough to hold a camera up in front of his face for 7 hours - all while dodging monsters, little monsters, bullets, mortar fire, collapsing buildings, and a helicopter crash. Anyway, we're with Hud, Rob, Rob's brother's girlfriend, and Rob's friend's friend, who Hud has a major crush on. While the ENTIRE population of Manhattan evacuates over the Brooklyn Bridge, our foursome heads to Midtown to heroically rescue Beth. Here and there tragedy strikes, and more than once we see the plodding monster stomp through the streets, impervious to all military weaponry. By the end, our lovers have reunited in Central Park, which is of course where the camcorder was recovered...ooooh...

I Loved:
+ Some of the visual effects - buildings leaning against each other, explosion from the rooftop, monster shots.

I Liked:
+ That some significant plot pieces were unresolved (where did the monster come from, what happened afterwards, etc.).
+ The ending, in a way. A little cheesy, but ultimately satisfying.

I Disliked:
- The predictability of the Brooklyn Bridge and post-monster-bite scenes.
- When the video would obnoxiously cut back to Beth and Rob's happy date.

I Hated:
- The cringe-inducing acting. Really bad. Really. Bad.
- Not being able to suspend my disbelief about some things (the little monsters would have hunted them through the city, no?), while totally accepting other things (a monster existing).
- Hud's unceasing sense of humor.

Writing - 7
Acting - 5
Production - 10
Emotional Impact - 8
Music - 5
Significance - 3

Total: 38/50= 76% = C

Last Word: Cloverfield is a movie with an identity crisis - bad enough to doom it, but unbearable when combined with terrible acting. It's easy enough to say it's Blair Witch meets Godzilla meets Jurassic Park meets 9/11 meets King Kong meets Alien. But that's not what I mean. What I mean is Cloverfield doesn't know what it wants to be. You can't have have some realistic elements (panic in Manhattan, accurate geography, real time, human weakness) and some ridiculous elements (ability to hold a working camera that long, nobody in the subway stations, functioning electricity, no cars on the subway line, etc.). Either go way over the top and make it funny, or take a subtle, scary approach (don't even show the monster, for starters). I'll give Cloverfield credit for at least trying a new style, but all it really showed was that that style doesn't work without a better story. This is where I desperately suggest seeing The Host, which has all of the elements of Cloverfield yet somehow manages a balance between comedy, fright, amazing visuals and characters you can care about. This is also where I'll mention J.J. Abrams - as only a producer, this is where his mention belongs. Had he written and/or directed, it might have been a better movie...


  1. I liked this better than you, but one quick question I have about the camcorder gimmick. Why were there so many scenes of the happy couple spliced into the video tape ? Wouldn't that mean that Hud would have had to stop the recording and then press play ? I didn't understand that at all. Either way, the gimmick was good enough to hold my attention. If you're going to make crap, at least make it creatively.


  2. Oh come on, that's you're only question about the logistics of the camera? What about the battery life or simply the durability of the thing after getting smashed around for 7 hours? (What about the other hours of footage, anyway? Does the government have some kid in an editing room bringing it down to 90 minutes?)

    To your point, from what I know about modern camcorders there are definitely not still problems with choppy, staticy, loud cuts and splices while recording.

    Yeah, it held my attention, which is about the only thing that prevents me from really hating it.

  3. I love The Host I watched it twice back to back. Great film. i wrote it up here: http://film-book.com/review-the-host/. I could not agree with you more on that film.

    I am sorry to say I do not agree with you on Cloverfield. (http://film-book.com/review-cloverfield/).That was one of the most creative films I saw last year. Instead of telling the same story in the regular way, they told it through a hand-held plus the visuals where great. You were right there with them in "the shit". In addition, the girls were smokin' but that did not influence my review.

  4. In hindsight I guess I appreciated the vision of Cloverfield as a new monster movie more than I realized. Maybe it was just too soon after The Host and my standards were unfairly high.

    Still, it didn't fully work for me, and now we have Matt Reeves remaking Let the Right One In. Ugh.

  5. After The Host, I can't blame you. The dynamic between the family was excellent.

    Jesus Christ, do not bring up that remake.


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