Cloverfield (2008)

*. A big budget found-footage (or shaky-cam) horror movie seems almost like a contradiction in terms. The whole point of taking this approach was to save money because these movies were supposed to look cheap and amateurish. So applying the intimate, shaky-cam aesthetic to a movie about a giant monster (and a lot of smaller monsters) destroying Manhattan is definitely throwing us a curve ball.
*. An aside. When I say “big budget” that’s being relative. On the DVD commentary track director Matt Reeves talks a lot about budget constraints and shooting on a tight schedule, but my understanding is that the budget was $25 million and he says the shooting schedule was 36 days. We’re not talking about The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity here.
*. Budget aside, this part of Cloverfield actually works pretty well. I liked the epic action sequences playing out guerilla style. I also didn’t mind how little we see of the actual monsters. The big boy isn’t shown in his entirety until the very end; in the rest of the movie he’s just a giant tail or foot, or a path of destruction. And I have no problem with that.
*. My problem with Cloverfield, and it’s a big problem since this is a movie I don’t like, has to do with everything else. As I’ve said, the juxtaposition of kaiju and shaky-cam is effectively done. But while the monsters are adequate (albeit not to my taste), the humans are terrible.
*. Going over my initial notes on this movie, made a few years ago, I found I’d written this: “About fifteen minutes into this movie I wanted to see everyone — and I mean every single face on screen — die a horrible, painful death. All these pretty young people so insufferably into themselves that they have to throw fabulous parties for themselves just because one of them is leaving town for a while.”
*. Watching the movie again my feelings toward these characters had not softened. With their “bros” and “dudes” and evidently vast inherited wealth it’s a hipster scene that has not aged well. But there’s more to it than this. These kids are also idiots. Anthony Lane: “our hip young folk are . . . not merely the prettiest and bravest members of the population; they are also the most stupid. The result is that our prevailing emotion, as they are picked off one by one, veers away from grief toward a sniggering delight.”
*. Bad enough that they decide they have to go back to ground zero to rescue Beth, but the speech Rob makes to the army officers is a sin. “The girl I love more than anything [anything?] is dying [how does he know this?] and it’s my fault [why?]. She should have been with me tonight [says who?] and I let her go [she left with another guy, get over it] . . . but we’re gonna go after her, and if you wanna stop me then you’re gonna have to shoot me.” Would that the officer had taken him up on the offer.
*. They wanted a romantic, life-affirming story intertwined with the monster mash stuff; I get that part even if I don’t agree with it. But something this schmaltzy? I am grateful the business of running the taped-over trip to Coney Island didn’t get any more play as a parallel narrative.
*. Then you have the cameraman Hud, who is so downright annoying in his play-by-play that he becomes agonizing before the end of the opening act. I guess he was supposed to inject some comic relief but if that was the aim they might have at least written him some funny lines. And what are we to think of his playing the gossip game at the loft party, telling all the guests that Rob and Beth have been sleeping together? He even records himself acting like this! And the people he tells this to are amazed! Are they all twelve years old?
*. As soon as Cloverfield came out it was discussed as a 9/11 film. Reeves went along with this, calling the monster “a metaphor for our times and the terror we all face,” and saying the movie “felt like it was a way of dealing with the anxieties of our time.” He also makes the perfectly valid point that this was what Godzilla did as well in the 1950s. Deborah Ross, however, writing in the Independent, asked “Is this, then, how America sees its aggressors, as unprovoked monsters suddenly appearing from nowhere for no apparent reason? Now, that is very frightening.”
*. Kim Newman: “It seems every age is an age of anxiety, and each wave of paranoia — whether triggered by terrorist attacks, new diseases, eco-doom, frightening ideologies or financial crisis — needs its own spin on Godzilla, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and War of the Worlds.”
*. The concept, to give it as vague a name as possible, would play out further in such tenuously related films as 10 Cloverfield Lane and The Cloverfield Paradox. Cloverfield, if not quite a franchise, became a brand. But at least the kids were dead.

2 thoughts on “Cloverfield (2008)

  1. Tom Moody

    My quibbles about this from ’08 were (i) they tried to pile too much in with a tainted blood/they-came-from-within creepy crawlie subplot and (ii) i’m not sure a skyscraper can lean against another skyscaper. That aside, I enjoyed it and didn’t mind seeing spoiled yuppies getting picked off. Speaking as a some-time NYC resident, and not to minimize the tragedies of 9/11 and Sandy, those events did have the effect of flushing out mobs of beautiful people who didn’t realize their urban adventure was going to be quite like this. They flee for the suburbs after each new cataclysm but then slowly creep back in, to wine, dine, and gentrify.

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Yeah, I don’t think that leaning skyscraper would be possible. Those buildings don’t have that kind of rigidity. Though I’m no engineer. They do have buildings leaning up against each other in the wasted urban landscape of Idiocracy (2006). Maybe that’s where they got it from:


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