It may make a good youtube vid. but Cloverfield leaves no lasting impression.
Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Michael Stahl-David, T.J. Miller, Jessica Lucas, Lizzy Caplan.
What’s it about? A young professional, Rob Hawkins, is set to leave New York for Japan but not before his friends throw him a going away party. Everything is going fine until the party is rudely interrupted by some monstrous being that has decided to tear NY to bits. Rob and his closest friends escape the apartment block and begin their journey to rescue Rob’s girlfriend, a journey that, conveniently, is captured on Rob’s handycam…
83 minutes of shaky camerawork could be enough to put anyone off going to see ‘Cloverfield’ but it is, after all, a film which set out to create the handycam experience. In fact it’s a vital part of this movie’s style. So let’s not complain about that, as so many people have. You wouldn’t go to see a ballet if you hated ballet now would you? In the case of ‘Cloverfield’, the handycam effect is a tool which Reeves and co have used to create a sense of suspense in the movie. The limitations of the little cam mean that we cannot grasp what exactly is happening, and we do not achieve anything but mere glimpses of the monster as he stomps across New York. The other reason why the cam works so well is, of course, that it represents the human eye; hence we get a pretty good idea of what it would be like to be, er, chased by some giant creature, however ridiculous that sounds and more importantly, what it is like to be caught up in a moment of mass panic.
At first, we see only snapshots of the monster; a tail here, a leg there. Even when he is close at hand, the handycam cannot pick up on the actual size of the creature, and so it reminds us of how small and vulnerable we are in comparison. This is a thought that does not bode well with humans, especially with the young jetsetter type such as Rob (David) and his friends who up until now only had to deal with the type of problems that you hear about on the O.C. Unfortunately there’s not much more depth to them than that. Rob is likeable enough but rather resembles a carbon copy of Jack (one of the main characters) from ‘Lost’. No surprise really seeing as the ‘Lost’ team are behind ‘Cloverfield’ anyway! However, the most shallow and ridiculous character has to be Hud (Miller). In a way it’s a blessing that he’s the one holding the camera: it means we don’t have to deal with him face on. But it does mean that we have to listen to him screaming ‘Rob, Ro-o-ob’ for the entire movie. I do imagine that it must be fairly difficult to set up decent character sketches with a film such as ‘Cloverfield’ which is extremely short and is being sold as a thriller/horror rather than a drama. We do get to know Rob quite well thanks to some old footage on the handycam tape of him and his best friend come girlfriend, Beth. As for the rest, however, they are all bordering on one dimensional and forgettable.
‘Cloverfield’s major weakness, however, is that it does not stick with its one great selling point: suspense. The handycam trick, where the monster is always a little out of sight, works well. And for much of the movie, the ‘Cloverfield’ creators were happy to leave us in the dark, so to speak. There is even a scene, possibly the best scene in the film, where one of Rob’s partygoers, Marlene (Caplan) complains that she is feeling unwell after having been bitten by one of the smaller alien creatures which are acting like a support team to the giant monster itself. As the group are in a makeshift hospital at the time, a soldier pulls Marlene behind a screen in the knowledge that something gruesome is about to take place. We see only her silhouette and a splatter of blood but it’s enough to have us imagine all sorts of dreadful scenes.
Yet, in the end, for some absurd reason, the team behind the film thought it would be a good idea to reveal the monster to us in full close up. We see it from all kinds of angles, from high in the sky helicopter views to ground level views where we can nearly see up its nose. It gave the CGI geniuses plenty to work on but it left us with little to ponder as we left the cinema. After all the media hype, ‘Cloverfield’ has become another forgettable SFX filled movie. Will they ever learn that less is more?!