Cloverfield burst onto the scene attached to the Coming Attractions of Michael Bay's Transformers. The obscure trailer that further intrigued the audience by leaving only 1-18-08 as the name of the film. Throughout production Coverfield went under many covers, such as the infamous Slusho!. This surely stirred up a lot of interest throughout movie geekdom. As the campaign gained steam everyone knew this: J.J. Abrams/monster movie/hand held camera. All of which served to build up the necessary audience to surely make this movie a January hit.
I too was intrigued by this film. I'm no big Lost fan, so J.J. Abrams didn't do anything for me, and monster movies aren't a particular favorite, but it is a genre where I am always interested to see a fresh take on making something exciting. However, I had these two notions going into the film that I knew to be true:
1. The movie is shot first person from a handheld camera, so don't expect much detail or explanation of things.
2. I won't be able to get past the fact that some guy is going to be racing from a killer giant monster from another planet, and filming this thing the whole time...in frame.
Both of those things are primarily damning in regards to my ability to fully accept this movie, so I was skeptical at best as far as this being a complete movie. For better for or for worse, throwing those conceptions out the window allowed me to take in this movie on a more basic level. Is it going to be exciting? suspenseful? scary? If it can accomplish those things then I can enjoy this film.
What ended up happening is that this movie was more style than substance. It was Blair Witch with a budget. I do give credit to J.J. Abrams and director Matt Reeves for attempting something against the standard mold of movie making. I can appreciate the effort, but it only lasts for so long. By following these 4 or so friends along their night as all this chaos unravels you have to develop a relationship with these characters strictly on the remnants of this video tape. It is something that you have to sell yourself on, and it is a tough leap to accept the relationships these characters have with so little background.
Even more difficult is the primary relationship of Rob and Beth. We are caught up to their situation via video clips and people gossiping, but for us to care about whether Rob can reunite with Beth during this monster attacking New York is not a primary concern. I know that I was much more interested in what the monster was doing, or where this monster is from, are there others? Obviously, none of this can be answered from first person view, but these are more interesting questions than a love story.
Fulfilling some of those needs may take away from the aspect of this movie being different than your typical monster movie, but why bother with the monster? It's like Titanic in the way that impending doom surrounds the characters, and yet the main focus is on a love story. The difference is that we know the ship is sinking. We know that Leo and Kate Winslet have only so much time until it is all over. With Cloverfield, we know nothing about impending doom or what is going to happen.
Something I found particularly funny is the monster's sense of the theatric. It's attacking New York City, ripping the head off the Statute of Liberty, destroying the Brooklyn Bridge. It all makes for great imagery. I know, I know, it's necessary for the intrigue of the movie. I don't think anyone would want to go see a monster from another planet destroy Richmond, Virginia or something. Giant alien monsters must just be against major cities. More stuff to knock over, more destruction for them to inflict of tiny people running for their lives.
As for the handheld camera, like I said, it was interesting, but it cannot hold up for the entire movie. You get a reason for why Rob's friend, Hud, insists on filming everything, but as they are being attacked, running, and escaping horrible doom you can't accept that he wouldn't just drop the camera and fucking run for his life. There is no way past it.
Also as the movie progressed the filming was plainly just too good to be believable. When a scene would past where monsters are attacking, people are running, buildings are blowing up would be filmed so everyone knows what is going on, the director is sure to have a scene where the camera drops to the character's waist for 20-30 seconds as dialogue takes place. To be honest, I would have like to see a really dramatic scene out of focus or with the camera pointing at the ground to have an aspect of suspense.
This is all to add a new aspect of realism and intimacy to the movie, but then there are the actors. While the acting is not the issue, the issue is that all of these people are typical actors. They don't look like you and me, but as Matty Ballgame from Filmspotting said perfectly, "It's like watching four GAP models running from a monster." Take Rob, played by Michael Stahl-David, best known for the short lived show The Black Donnellys, he's got the full model beard going on, and he's supposed to be the VP of some huge company? Not likely.
Then there is Beth, played by Odette Yustman. No one on your block or my block looks remotely like Odette Yustman, and that is a travesty. If you're going to sell me on the realistic take on a monster movie, then give me some true to life characters. Don't throw Odette Yustman in front of my face and tell me this is reality cause I ain't buyin it. And yes, I will refer to Odette Yustman by her full name for the rest of my life. Odette Yustman.
Lastly, the movie doesn't even function on a scary or suspenseful level. The monster is interesting, but not overtly scary. You don't feel any great desperation even though the circumstances couldn't be more dire. There are a few scenes where one might gasp, but the overall execution of fear is lacking.
I will say that if you're intrigued, then go see the flick. It's not a bad movie, just lacking in some areas that could leave the audience fulfilled. It is one of those movies, where if you are going to see it, then go see it in the theater. Seeing it on DVD would lose the full aspect of the film.
DVD Purchase: 1/10