When is a monster movie not a monster movie: A review of Cloverfield|
Attempts a new spin on the monster movie genre by telling a story through eyes of the little people that run and scream from the big-bad-McGuffin. Avoids having techno-jargon and exposition potentially bore the audience by providing viewers with absolutely no back story to the events in question. Clocks in at shade under an hour and a half in running time.
Derivative and unimaginative filming style reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project. Characters seem to be an odd inter-racial knock off of the gang from Friends. Laden with "subtle as a frying pan to the face" imagery meant to appeal to 9/11 heartstrings. Seriously maudlin storyline pushes boundaries of what you would find in grocery store romance novels. About as terrifying as an evening with Bob Saget.
If Mystery Science Theatre 3000 were still on the air, I imagine that it would not be long before Matt Reeve's Cloverfield would be offered up on Mike Nelson and co.'s altar of comedic fodder.
Therefore, I say the following, fully aware that it constitutes what many would call "fightin? words": Cloverfield has replaced Battlefield Earth as the fourth worst movie I have ever seen.
Before I continue the review, I think it best that I give a bit of context as to why I was unsatisfied with what Cloverfield had to offer, when I'm sure many other reviewers and movie-goers will be touting its strengths. First, I didn't care much for The Blair Witch Project.
While some people found the low budget, grainy, shaky-cam effect to be endearing, I found it reminiscent of a movie I made in the high school called, "Whack Bandit". Shaky-cam strikes me as nothing more than an attempt to gussy up bad production in the guise of nouveau-riche art film drek. Cloverfield takes the shaky-cam to a new level. By the end of the movie many of my fellow movie-goers were looking more than a little queasy. Even I, a veteran of first-person shooters all the way back to Wolfenstein 3D, was left feeling a bit out of sorts after an hour-and-a-half of camera shake. So if you too were not a fan of the movie that claimed to revolutionize horror films, probably best if you skip Cloverfield.
The second thing that I think inherently sours me against this movie is that I've never been a fan of Friends. Essentially, this film centers on a dysfunctional relationship between a "Ross" and "Rachel" character played by Michael Stahl-David and Odette Yustman (I?ve never heard of them either). Only after the shaky-cam allows for some fifteen minutes of painfully maudlin back story on these two character's sexpolits, which -- seemingly -- leads up to Rob and Beth?s final parting of the ways, does the big-bad-McGuffin finally attack.
With Ross..., oh pardon me I mean Rob's, going away party broken up by the McGuffin's attack on the Statue of Liberty, Rob, accompanied by his brother, Jason (Mike Vogel), Jason?s girlfriend, Lily (Jessica Lucas), his best friend, Hud -- short for Hudson (T.J. Miller) and Hud's paramour, Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), the group make for New Jersey. (Wasn't that the plot of Escape from New York?) But when Rob receives a call on his cell phone from the recently estranged Beth, he decides to opt for love and rescue Beth from her lavish mid-town apartment building. That?s right, the entire purpose of this film is to chronicle Rob's misguided effort to save his one true love. Perhaps that works for some people, but not this guy.
The third thing that puts me off Cloverfield is that I am not American. Being a Canadian I know that I watched the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building being destroyed through a different perceptual filter than that of my neighbours to the south. The reality of airplanes being driven into the World Trade Center has blurred the line between celluloid fantasy and recent history. So all of the veiled and not so veiled references to 9/11 in Cloverfield failed to inspire fear and terror in me as I imagine they could in a person watching this movie in Manhattan.
Despite my writing from the position of being an anomaly in comparison to the majority of North American media consumers, there are still some serious problems with Cloverfield that ought not to be over-looked. Cloverfield's largest failure stems from the fact that the movie seems to be very schizophrenic. The theme of pseudo-confidentiality that surrounded the film's pre-release media bonanza told us only one thing, that this was a monster movie. With J.J. Abrams' name attached to the film, we were meant to believe that this was going to be THE monster movie of all time.
But, I ask you this, would Godzilla, as a franchise, have spawned such a cult following if you didn't get to actually see the monster destroying Tokyo? Imagine Godzilla from the perspective of the little Japanese guy that points and yells, "GODZILLA!" and then summarily gets stomped on for taking the time to point and gawk. That's Cloverfiled, except that you don't get to more than 45 seconds of screen time with the big-bad-McGuffin. By this benchmark, it hardly seems fitting to call Cloverfield a monster movie.
The horror/survival-horror elements of the film are equally weak. If you are paying very close attention to the film, you discover that the Cloverfield McGuffin drops mini-McGuffins as it lumbers about Manhattan. If bitten by one of these little monsters, which are apparently easily fought off and killed in hand to hand combat, you end up looking like an extra from Scanners, bleeding from various orifices until you possibly explode -- the army took the one "bitten" character away before the shaky-cam could focus on said character's ultimate fate. When a movie has such a thin story, tacking on a nearly meaningless and equally invisible caveat to the big-bad-McGuffin is a truly pointless gesture.
In considering the pointless addition of the mini-McGuffins I have to ask, what were the producers thinking? Were they trying to establish the seriousness of the threat? The xenomorphs from the Alien franchise tearing collective new ones to a platoon of hard-as-nails Space Marines establishes a credible threat. Mini-McGuffins taking down a malaise stricken wanna-be actress from New York makes me laugh ? but only after vomiting from seasickness brought on by the shaky-cam.
So, when is a monster movie, not a monster movie? When the powers that be deign to show you no more than forty-five seconds of monster footage. Or, a monster movie is not a monster movie when what little you get of the monster is caught in shadow whilst filmed in such a herky-jerky fashion such that even your imagination is left wondering, "Was that a monster, or just the second unit director?s dog wearing toy antlers?"
The bottom line --Cloverfield is the last five minutes of Wayne's World II but stretched out into an hour and a half of overly self-serious melodrama.
Since the monsters are all but invisible, most of the dialogue focuses our overly moody yuppie realizing he really does love the woman of his dreams, but only after alienating her. Remember Mike Myers running to stop Tia Carrere from marrying Christopher Walken a la The Graduate? The shaky-cam married to seriously underwhelming acting didn't impress me ten years ago with The Blair Witch Project, and it doesn't impress me now. Run, don't walk, away from this movie as fast as you possibly can.