Monday, 28 January 2008

Cloverfield - Review by Joseph Wren

Director: Matt Reeves
Screenwriter: Drew Goddard
Running Time: 85 minutes
Certificate: 15
Released: 1 February

I feel bad for New York City. It always tops on the list of cities to get obliterated on screen for our pleasure, my home town and its iconography have been torn to shreds by the likes of invading alien hordes, Godzilla, global warming, and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. It seems a foregone conclusion that the apocalypse will begin in NYC. Many people said that watching the horror unfold on September 11th “looked just like a movie”, a sentiment taken to heart by Hollywood. Some of their upcoming blockbusters over the year or so following the attack had to be re-edited and digitally manipulated to adjust to the newfound sensitivity of a traumatized nation, and the biggest disaster that NYC faced on film afterwards was at the hands of Mother Nature in The Day After Tomorrow, a film intended as blockbuster edutainment rather than pure popcorn fare.

The makers of Cloverfield, (a J.J. Abrams production), made it directly clear in their infamous early trailers that they did not care to wait any longer for us to “get over” 9/11 – unsuspecting audiences at musclehead films such as Beowulf and Transformers had the scarred head of the Statue of Liberty thrown in front of their eyes. A dissertation could be written on the film’s marketing campaign alone. Whether or not we are ready for it, Cloverfield is here, and American audiences have responded by smashing January box office records.

It is nearly impossible to think about Cloverfield aside from the real world events of 9/11 and the subsequent world in which we live, and Cloverfield wants us very much to think about it in such a context. The film is shot entirely from the perspective of Hud, a bloke at a party in a Soho flat who has never worked a camera before, but feels he must document the event “because people will need to see this”. And what we see is not unlike the images from 9/11 – colossal buildings collapsing, gigantic plumes of ash blowing down the street, and scores of people running down the street in sheer terror, without any comprehension of the unfolding events.

Cloverfield aspires to look like the most terrifying YouTube video ever. Unknown actors fill out the cast, scampering through hazardous bridges, tunnels, and half-gone buildings in an attempt to dodge this unexplained monster. Call it what you will (The Village Voice has cleverly dubbed it al-Quadzilla), the ridiculous-looking beast gets too much screen time to keep up the suspense, and Cloverfield frequently heads into Godzilla territory. And this is where Cloverfield runs into trouble – the attempt to merge YouTube with Godzilla doesn’t really work. Since we’ve already experienced real-life terror in the world, big ugly movie monsters seem a tad anachronistic. And don’t get me wrong, I get the point of the film – “real” people facing an astonishing threat of which we have no understanding, and from which no superheroes can save us. But weather or not Cloverfield can be as terrifying as a film such as An Inconvenient Truth is up for debate.
Like all films, Cloverfield may or may not work depending upon your subjective experience. It is an ambitious experiment at merging real-life and fantasy horror, I’ll give Abrams and Co. that much. The sound design and tension are good to a point, the acting is all over the shop, the camera work infuriating, and the attempt at a love story is useless, but there are some unexpected laughs. If trying to look at Cloverfield in political terms isn’t your cup of tea, it will have to work as a thrill ride, or it won’t work at all. But the repetitive “run, battle, rest, repeat” formula gets exhausting before the 85 minutes are up. More practically, with a budget of a mere $25 million, Cloverfield may be ushering in a new wave of micro budget blockbusters. Now if only they could afford some writers…

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