“Cloverfield” directed by Matt Reeves and produced by J.J. Abrams, is America’s answer to Godzilla. It features a monster that crawls out of the sea and decides to use New York as its new nesting ground, creating all sorts of havoc in a city that has already been destroyed countless ways on screen. On paper you would expect the filmmakers to tell the story on a grand scale, with wide shots of F-16s taking shots at the monster, but instead they decide to tell the story from the point of view of a few young party-goers whose night definitely does not go as expected.
This being one of J.J Abram’s special projects, a considerable amount of work went into building buzz for the movie without revealing too many details about the plot, or what the monster would look like. This included the mysterious teaser trailer featuring the head of the Statue of Liberty landing in the streets of New York and a viral marketing campaign. The teaser trailer sold me, but apparently the viral marketing campaign didn’t work for everyone. I saw the film on the big screen in 2008 while studying at the University of Sherbrooke. Some of my geekier friends had of course already hear about the movie, but recently I spoke to my brother about the film and he had never heard about it. Clearly, viral marketing campaigns don’t reach everyone.
Even without any pre-release excitement, first-time viewers would be captivated by the movie’s premise. The film begins with a disclaimer by the U.S government saying this footage is part of a case designated “Cloverfield” and was found in the area formerly known as Central Park. Early footage introduces the characters Rob (Michael Stahl-David), and his girlfriend Beth (Odette Annable) making their way to a farewell party for Rob who will soon leave for Japan. Rob’s brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and his girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas) host the party while Hud (T.J Miller) records the festivities with the hand-held camera.
Hud suddenly has something else to shoot when an earthquake first cuts off the power and then an explosion forces the partygoers to evacuate the building. Once outside, the head of the Statue of Liberty does indeed bounce down the streets, and moments later Hud gets a brief shot of the creature that did the beheading. You can’t see much, but it is big, loud, and definitely not friendly.
From then on the group treks across Manhattan, trying to first find a way out of the city, then trying to find Beth who left the party early and is trapped in her building, and eventually just trying to find a way to stay alive. Footage from the news reveals parasites seem to be jumping off the creature’s back and attacking civilians. This leads to a particularly tense sequence as the group is walking in a darkened subway tunnel and has a feeling that something is following them. Luckily, that camera has night vision. Unfortunately, just because you can see the monsters, doesn’t mean you can outrun them.
This all makes for a good monster story, but it doesn’t change the fact that you have to sit through the entire movie while the “cameraperson” is shooting with a hand-held camera. I enjoyed the film’s thrills as we saw bits and pieces of the monster over time, but am I the only who is getting a little tired of the “found footage” sub-genre? Sure, it gives you the impression you are right there with the characters, and it does add a touch of realism, but at the same time it is the most unrealistic gimmick in horror right now.
I don’t know about you, but if a gigantic monster and his parasites are chasing me through New York City, I am not going to slow down to film the events with my camera or my iPhone. I am going to drop everything I am holding and head for the army command post. Yes, my chosen profession is journalism, but I would rather do coverage of film festivals, not monster attacks. Let Anderson Cooper get a shot of the city-destroying monster. Me, I am out of here!
Also, when you’re staring at the footage zigzagging on a movie screen as the characters are running for their lives and you have an unhealthy mixture of popcorn and Sprite churning in your stomach, you begin to understand why they call it a “queasy cam.”
There have been rumors of a sequel ever since the film came out and made a fortune out of its relatively small budget. I would be interested, but please, how about we find footage of someone who has a steady-cam?