‘Cloverfield’ lives up to its (stupid) name

Last summer, while sitting in the theater waiting for “Transformers” to start, viewers were impressed by a trailer for what would come to be called “Cloverfield”: A handheld video camera documents one man’s final night in town, and it looks like we’re in for a cute indie. But suddenly an explosion rocks New York City, and next thing you know, the Statue of Liberty’s head lands directly in the foreground. The trailer, part of a successful viral marketing campaign, caused intense curiosity about what was to be released on “1.18.08.” Unfortunately, the only new thing I gleaned from seeing the actual movie was what the attacker looked like — and even that information is suspect.

“Cloverfield” tells the tale of a group of friends who gather to say bon voyage to Tokyo-bound buddy Rob (Michael Stahl-David). Best friend Hud (T.J. Miller) is filming the party for Rob’s future viewing pleasure, but he soon finds a new purpose when a monster attacks NYC and he has the means to document it. The film is shown from Hud’s camera’s perspective as he, Rob and two others attempt first to rescue Rob’s trapped lover and then vacate the city before the military blows it to kingdom come.

Yet what sounds like the perfect blend of thriller and avant-garde (cheap) production ends up extremely disappointing. The shaky, nauseating camera work (think “Blair Witch”) means that in many shots it is incredibly difficult to ascertain what is actually happening on screen besides total chaos.

The movie is only named “Cloverfield” because no better name could be found — much in the same way that neither a fitting nor an engaging plot was ever developed. It seems as if J.J. Abrams just woke up one day and thought, “a monster attacks NYC,” and stopped there. Because our point of view is with Hud and those on the ground, the only information we learn is that the attacker is a monster that sheds smaller, similarly evil creatures. Also, the monster eats people. Where did this monster come from? What the hell is it? Why is it attacking Manhattan? — all questions that go unanswered.

The monster does not even have consistent characteristics throughout the movie. It causes an explosion, though what is exploding is unclear, and the monster never again decides to use its explosive super powers. And even more confusing is the destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge by a tentacle, when the full aerial shots of the attack reveal that no, it has no tentacles at all. Maybe there is a whole posse of monsters waiting for their shot at the big screen?

As an action film, however, some scenes do have you on the edge of your seat. In one scene, as the main characters manoeuvre through pitch-black subway tunnels, the audience trembles in horror of what lurks in the dark. And the shots of the military’s fruitless attempts at bringing the terror to its knees are, in short, impressive and relevant.

The blending of handheld shots and computer effects is also done in such a way that the attack looks almost believable.

Watching the head of the Statue of Liberty flying through the air looks real enough to produce shivers, and the money shots of the monster at the end mixed with a shaking hand make you wonder whether the Department of Defense actually is hiding this footage from us.

Ultimately, though, “Cloverfield” can best be summarized by a fellow moviegoer’s irritated shout at the conclusion: “ARE YOU SERIOUS?!?!”

Comments

  • Anonymous

    "money shots of the monstermixed with a shaking hand make you wonder whether the Department of Defense actually is hiding this footage from us."

    this was the point of the movie, idiot. nothing else.

  • Anonymous

    i've got to 100% disagree.

    i think to complain "Where did this monster come from? What the hell is it? Why is it attacking Manhattan? — all questions that go unanswered." misses the point of the movie.

    the conventions cloverfield sought to break are the very ones the reviewer admits he is reliant on. does it ever *really* matter what the monster is and why it's happening? the idea is--if you can accept the given that a monster is attacking new york and chaos is ensuing--what would matter isn't what exactly the monster is but what's happening to the people you care about. the first-person camera (the shakiness didn't bother me, but i guess that's just a matter of opinion) was a clever way to really submerge the audience into the situation in a way that… actually feels real. movies in this genre are so often bogged down in decisions made by the bad-ass army commander and the department of defense and the president. it feels more relevant and thus satisfying to see it from this perspective. as weird as it sounds, if something like this ever did happen, i feel like this is as accurate a perspective as i've ever imagined of what it would be like. i found the characters likable and relatable and the plot both engaging and fitting.

    my only complaint about the movie was the heavy handed 9/11 imagery when the building rubble rushed down the street. it's been long enough that destroying new york is acceptable, but relying on such iconic 9/11 imagery is kind of tasteless.

    that said i loved the movie, and think those who have these complaints (which are many people, i must admit) are those who find themselves most reliant on the conventions they have been accustomed.

    a similar (and better) movie one might want to check out is "the host"--it's like cloverfield, except subtitled, better written, and conventionally (albeit beautifully) filmed. i gave it a five-star review back in the day: http://www.yaledailynews.com/articles/view/20585

  • Bigdaddyskitchen

    It's a chick flick that happens to have a monster in it. It'll be on Lifetime at 4a.m. in a year!