Who knew that I liked zombie/rampaging monster/apocalyptic movies so much? Cloverfield takes a Blair Witch approach to a story of an unnamed monster that attacks Manhattan.
We see the entire story through video footage being recorded by Jason (Mike Vogel) and then by best friend Hud (T. J. Miller) as Jason quickly divests himself of the responsibility pressed on him by girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas) to document his brother Rob’s (Michael Stahl-David) surprise going away party.
A good amount of time is spent roaming the surprise party. The dynamics are quickly set – Jason lets people down, Lily is running out of reasons to stay with him, Rob can’t be honest about emotions and Hud just wants a girl to like him. Tonight it’s surly Marlena (Lizzy Caplan channelling her Janis Ian role from Mean Girls (2004)).
When the monster suddenly appears, the shock and confusion is palpable and the erratic handheld camera work means we feel as disoriented and isolated as the characters. In scenes reminiscent of the aftermath of the New York World Trade Centre attacks, we get a sense of comfortable white Americans been confronted with horror, made vulnerable in a way that no privilege can save them.
The dramatic tension is created by Rob’s quest to save Beth (Odette Annable), a girl he had a fling with and obviously has feelings for. It means heading toward the monster, which allows us to travel with them through a subterranean world, suddenly made strange.
The feeling of threat is carried throughout the film. We are shown enough of the monster to understand the peril and it comes in many forms. The conceit of the handheld camera is occasionally noticeable but it works well on several levels. It helps create tension as it hides information from us, it gives us flashbacks to Rob and Beth’s past through tape (yes tape!) glitches and its player point of view makes us feel like active participants in the horror and tragedy.
It feels surprisingly old school and authentic. Apparently the film, without credits, is exactly the length of a long-running mini DV tape. And there are single frames from classic and cult monster movies hidden in the camera edits.
After this, director Matt Reeves went from making romantic comedies and TV shows to taking the helm for Let Me In (2010), the US remake of the sublime Let the Right One In (2008), and two Planet of the Apes movies. Cloverfield also spawned a sort of franchise with 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) and the generally panned The Cloverfield Paradox (2018), no doubt due to it earning more than US $172 million worldwide from an estimated $25 million budget.
I like the way the story progressed and the emotional layers of the ending. It makes me want to watch the sequel and I might even get around to watching the Blair Witch Project (1999) (that I boycotted when I was a serious young adult).
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.