Dave Newman says Cloverfield is pretty good for a dumb movie.
Cloverfield provides an unprecedented perspective and a unique marketing campaign in service of what is—in essence—a run of-the-mill giant-monster-attacks-city movie experience.
The movie follows a group of terribly attractive youngsters as they run, scream, and try to avoid being eaten by… well, something. Before the film’s release the identity of the film’s creature was a closely guarded secret, stimulating huge amounts of speculation among curious viewers. After seeing the movie, I’m still hard-pressed to give a clear description of the monster’s physical shape.
There are a handful of awe-inspiring moments where the film’s hand-held style, coupled with the intensity of the destruction and a good scare or two, create something really special.
For the most part, though, people will be wondering what all the fuss was about.
We’re introduced to the cast of characters through a farewell party for the leading man, Rob, who’s taking off for Japan and leaving behind a whole tangled mess of relationship drama to provide us with some character development early on. Despite the high levels of cheese here, the characters do indeed become endearing, particularly Hud, Rob’s right-hand-man who gets burdened with the task of filming the evening’s festivities. Throughout the course of the movie, Hud remains almost entirely an off-screen narrator, staying behind the lens and offering some comic relief during the moments of carnage. It’s a running commentary by the classic drinking buddy everyone invites to the party for a laugh. For the most part, it works. We root for Hud and his buddies to find some way, any way out of New York. The cast is made up of unknown-to-most young actors who do a competent job with some pretty trite dialogue and a whole lot of semi-coherent yelling.
But let’s be honest, nobody was expecting to walk out of this movie in awe of the nuanced performances, were they?
Cloverfield’s most unique aspect is the fact that it is shot entirely from the perspective of its protagonists through a hand-held camcorder. The film is presented as a piece of government property, recovered from the scene of the attack and reviewed at some undisclosed point after the incident. While this conceit is used effectively to create an immersive movie-going experience, it’s also liable to send a lot of viewers into dizzy/hurling spells. Remember that scene in The Blair Witch Project when the cameraman started to run for his life and for a minute, the entire world in front of you started to spin and shake all over the place? Now, imagine that feeling extended for an entire thirty minute action sequence. The camera jerks and swings wildly as the characters dash through the streets of New York, and we do feel like we’re in the action, sometimes a little too deep.
So what about that monster that everyone was so curious about? What is it? Where did it come from? Why is it so pissed off? You won’t be spoiled here, because after seeing the movie, I still can’t answer any of these questions. The movie explains nothing about the monster during the course of the movie—something which I found frustrating at first, but later came to admire. What the filmmakers are trying to do here is create a singular piece of pure, immersive entertainment—something without sub-plots, without arching crane shots, and without washed-up middle aged actors playing the President of the United States. This is a story about a bunch of kids who have to run away when a creature attacks their city. And they happen to have a camcorder on hand.
With the monster, the less we see of it the better. The extended close up towards the end reveals nothing more than a silly-looking CGI… something. Realizing this and lowering your expectations accordingly you’ll discover Cloverfield accomplishes what it set out to do. It’s dumb and loud and fun. The hand-held camera might give you a headache, but at least it provides a unique spin on something which would otherwise be painfully generic.
Cloverfield is showing at the Avalon Mall’s Empire Studio 12. Call 722-5775 for times and prices.