The year 2007 was a rollercoaster ride of sorts for Hollywood cinema. It started off dull, with mediocre films hitting the local theater, and ended with a bang as a wave of high-level, well made films entered theaters. In a sense, 2008 looks to be headed in that direction. Hollywood’s first big offering in a year that looks to be filled with big budget films is the highly anticipated “Cloverfield.” With the first trailers screened before this past summer’s “Transformers,” the film’s producers provided a marketing campaign that consisted simply of the release date of “1-18-08,” leaving many audience members on the edge of their seats attempting to decipher just what this film was. Some speculated that it was a new Godzilla movie, which would have brought a new angle to the classic monster film, as well as attempted to make up for the 1998 debacle starring Matthew Broderick.
However, audiences will be excited to discover that “Cloverfield” is an original story. The word “original” is something that must be used loosely, for this film uses many monster movie clichés. In the end though, “Cloverfield” is a surprisingly fun film that, while not necessarily great, is not nearly as bad as it could have been.
The plot of “Cloverfield” is simple. Cut at 84 minutes, the film is not, nor is it even necessary to be, filled with a long, drawn out story. Rob (Michael Stahl-David) has just been promoted to vice president at his job and is being relocated from New York City to Japan. His friends decide to throw him a going-away party. Everyone at the party tapes their testimonials and goodbyes to Rob, which become poignant as these are the last words that they will say to their friend.
During the course of the party, something attacks the city. Nobody is quite sure what it is; they just know that it is leaving a path of destruction in its wake. Five friends try to escape, but in their haste, Rob receives a phone call from Beth (Odette Yustman), who is trapped in her apartment. Rob and his friends begin a journey through the city to rescue Beth and escape the city.
Not to sound cliché, but this film is a hybrid of “Godzilla” and “The Blair Witch Project.” Director Matt Reeves utilizes an innovative, but not necessarily new, technique to tell the film’s story. The film relies on the use of handheld video cameras and a first person perspective. This will almost immediately bring to mind the shooting style of “The Blair Witch Project.” If you could not handle that, then stay clear of this movie.
The guerilla camera work is a nice touch and allows for the audience member to feel as though they are in the middle of the fray. However, it makes for a nauseating experience. This “shaky camera” effect, which has become all too prevalent in recent years, is on full display in “Cloverfield.” On the one hand, one could argue that utilizing this shooting style distracts from the overall experience, but on the other, one must look at it as something different. The tension that Reeves is seeking to create is very evident and would be absent without the first-person, rocky shooting. It brings something new to an aged and dying genre, one that was begging for innovation.
Many of the scenes display complete pandemonium. Some may even draw parallels to the footage of Sept. 11, 2001, where the buildings collapsed and dust flew through the streets. This is shown during the creature’s first attack. What results is another 9/11-style image, as people walk the streets confused, covered in dust and debris. We never get a complete look at what is destroying the city, but do we really want to? That is what “Cloverfield” drives on, this lack of knowledge.
Reeves also creates tension through a lack of knowledge. There is no back story to where the creature came from or it has arrived. This works well in creating suspension through the use of the question “why?” This lack of knowledge helps build the suspension leading up to the final moments.
The casting choice is wise in a film such as this; it is filled with unknowns, which add to the realism. It helps create tension because we see the characters, not the actors trying to play the characters. However, what results is an intense amount of bad acting and overacting. Is this a film that relies heavily on performances? No, for this film relies on the high-quality special effects and the tension created by the lack of knowledge surrounding the attack.
With its missteps aside, “Cloverfield” is an interesting film and certainly worthy of the $10 and the 84 minutes of your life. If you go into this film looking for good performances and depth, you will be deeply disappointed. This is a film that must be taken at face value, a monster movie that seeks to revitalize this dying genre. With that it succeeds. The special effects and destruction, coupled with the tense environment make this a worthwhile experience for any moviegoer.
Chris Bashore is a fourth-year student majoring in political science. He can be reached at CB588901@wcupa.edu.