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Movie Review: A Scary, Breathtaking Walk Through Cloverfield

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I have been waiting for something to scare me for a long time. Until I saw Cloverfield, the last movie that I expected to frighten me was Hostel. It kind of failed. I actually thought of it more as a really dark comedy. With all the American cut n’ paste movies taken from Japan and all the Saw films, I have not really been sucked in by most of these viewing experiences.

There was a bit of good buzz on Cloverfield before it opened. I was all over Rotten Tomatoes because I needed a good reason to go through a movie theater experience. For me to go to a theater these days, the movie has to be damn good. So I took a chance and I saw Cloverfield. I am so glad I took a chance and did not wait for DVD.

Cloverfield takes place roughly within a day, and it is shot from the perspective of a camcorder. Are you still with me? I don’t know if you are, because this is – wait for the obvious reference – Blair Witch-style shaky cam. Director Matt Reeves’ idea was to put the audience inside this film as a character. It’s sort of like a first person shooter video game, like Half-life. You don’t get to see anything unless the guy holding the camera decides to focus on it.

Things go boom, then the wacky hijins begin! :)Our cameraman for this experience is named Hudson (T.J. Miller), or Hud for short. Hud is a total meathead. When you first meet Hud, he says something stupid, and until the end of the movie, he’s either saying something stupid, inappropriate, funny, or a mix of all three. He’s your comic relief, and he gets off some good lines. I guess they pick this dumb-but-loveable guy as the cameraman because he doesn’t entirely know when his behavior is appropriate. You need that type of person to be shooting some of the horrific happenings of this night, because anyone else might have abandoned the camera after the initial explosions.

The rest of the survivors include Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), the apple of Hud’s eye; Lily (Jessica Lucas) and Jason (Mike Vogel), a couple who planned the surprise party; and finally Rob Hawkins (Michael David-Stahl), who is leaving New York for Japan to be a vice president at an unnamed company.

Rob is what you would consider the lead. Where these survivors go and why they make the decisions they make all hinge on his emotions. Rob is an idiot. Any other person put in this situation would take the fastest exit away from a gigundo monster. Instead everyone takes a frightening trek into the explosions, debris from demolished structures and a monster that is apparently invulnerable, at least from being hit by rocket fire, tank fire or bullets.

Rob and crew try to find the best possible way to travel to Columbus Circle. While they run for their lives, there are moments where we are privy to little details about this monster attack, as well as the status of the other important characters. One character whose well-being is in doubt is Beth (Odette Yustman), a girl Rob has feelings for.

Cloverfield doesn’t give you as much information as the average monster movie or horror flick would offer up to you. The best look you get of the monster is from news reports filmed off of television screens. Only toward the end do you get to see the monster up close, in terrifying detail. The monster is some mix of a tadpole, a fish, an octopus and the creature from The Host. It’s an amalgamation of creatures that looks like it evolved just for the purpose of getting on land and starting trouble. The monster even has offspring, but they are not nearly as cute as Godzooky. They are nasty little buggers, and when they encounter humans, they are completely relentless.

The creatures are obviously CGI, but you see so little of them that when they are on screen, they are believable enough; and since you have a first person camera capturing it, the effect of monsters jumping at the camera is menacing. The big momma monster is scary as well, because just one tentacle can tear tons of brick down on people’s heads. Its feet can flatten cars, and skyscrapers are like Lego blocks to it.

The damage these creatures do is what is truly terrifying. In one scene, the survivors duck into a convenience store. The monster tears down a certain monument, and the dust comes blasting by. If you see Cloverfield you might feel like this was inspired in part to the events of 9/11. A major horrific attack in Manhattan? Cloverfield can’t escape being compared to the real life terrorist attack. I’ll never know what my reaction to this movie would be if 9/11 was not a reality, but I’m sure that the thought of being caught in an unexpected attack would be frightening to me regardless.

I think what makes Cloverfield somewhat refreshing and unique amongst movies of its kind is that it straddles the line between reality and outlandish fantasy so well that it makes you feel for these characters who are stuck and have no clue how they are going to survive, or if they can survive. The problem with most CGI creature movies is that when you get shot after shot and angle after angle of a computer generated fallacy, your fright often subsides. I don’t want to see a clear shot of a monster doing back-flips and running quickly towards its prey. For most monster movies, the creature isn’t all that believable. Computer technology, animatronics, or puppetry doesn’t always hit the spot in the scare department.

Like I said at the start, I read quite a few reviews of Cloverfield before I went to see it. Some reviewers said that they needed to see more. Why isn’t a taste better than a full-blown meal? I have scores of questions that I’d like to ask writer Drew Goddard and crew, but I also have my own mind to work with. Since there is only the taped footage that stands as evidence of the Cloverfield event, you are left to wonder what happened after the attack. Who survived? What happened to the other party-goers who didn’t hang out with Rob, Jason, Lily, Hud, and Marlena? What happens to Mahnattan? Is it inhabitable again? Can the military prepare itself for another attack like this? Maybe a sequel will be made, one that is shot from multiple angles, not from a first-person POV. I, for one, don’t need one.

There are certain movies that leave you dangling off a cliff, that could continue their story for three or four sequels' worth. I think that Cloverfield is amusing, alarming, and terrifying enough to keep me satisfied. The actors put forward good performances, the monster is suitably scary, and the story takes turns that make me happy. Cloverfield is not typical horror fare, nor is it a weak filmmaking effort. January is supposed to be a time for movies not worthy of much praise, but I think that even with the Oscar-worthy gems coming down the pike, Cloverfield will still be high on my list of great 2008 films.

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About VichusSmith

  • qer

    hmmm….not yet seen the movie, but from reviews and reader comments it appears to have an over 90% rating which is simply amazing for such an unbelievable nonsense as a outsize monster rampaging through a city !!! and that too with countless godzilla, king-kong type movies already becoming history, seems the movie producers have pulled off the impossible…glurk !

    guess its worth seeing…….off to the ticket booking counter !

  • http://hotflashes51.wordpress.com/ HF

    A NOT scary nauseating walk through Cloverfield..

    My ex-mother-in-law is scarier than the monster and I get her for free. I got dizzy while watching this movie because the camera is so blury and jumpy. Blair Witch used this style, but at least that movie had a story. The character who was filming the home movie was annoying. I know that kid. I have kicked him out of my house and now he’s in a movie. Nice…You don’t really get to see the monster clearly, only at the end and just for a second. It looked like a muppet.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=Vichus%20Smith V. Smith

    You’re welcome to your opinon on how scary the monster is; What I found scary about the mosnter was how destructive it was more than it’s look.

    However, there was never any promise that there would be a full on look at the monster. You do get to see views of the monster, but never a full view of the monster from front to back. I still can’t piece together how it looks. Since the movie, I have seen art of the monster, and I would have thought it would have looked more octopus-like.

    Oh, and BTW, this has more of a story than the Blair Witch Project. I will stand up to that statement as a fact. There’s a lot of backstory on who the characters are in Cloverfield. We know Rob is a VP for a big company with offices in Japan. We know that Hudson is his friend and Jason is Rob’s brother. We know that Rob and Beth have a certain type of
    relationship. We know a lot of details about them. Further along in the story, when characters meet other people, they learn a little more about the monster and its offspring. What’s missing is the history of the monster and how it was created, which you aren’t supposed to know anyway.

    I’m not a big fan of when people say a movie has “no plot.” I have watched movies (usually extremely low budget ones) that literally have no plot.

    Also, don’t tell me you didn’t laugh at the thing Hud said about a homeless guy while they were in the tunnels. That had me laughing hard!

  • kiki23

    I thought that this movie was great. It had me interested through the whole movie, not like the Blair Witch. I liked how Cloverfield made me feel like I was watching a news breif on what was happening in NYC. It was all over just a great movie!

  • joe

    My theory is that watching this movie is much like looking at a 3D movie or a 3D image on paper. It’s like when you draw a cube on a paper… some people see a cube when they look at it, but a small percenetage of the people only se a bunch of lines… thats probably because their brains are still very primitive or they lack something that allows the rest of us to grasp abstract concepts and ideas. To make a long story short, if you get motion sicknes from watching something on TV or Theater then your’e a fucking idiot.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=Vichus%20Smith V. Smith

    Calm yourself :)

    If you want to make a leap from motion sickness to stupidity, that’s all you. a vast array of people, some who I know personally, some who I don’t, complained of catching motion sickness from the camera flaying wildly. It’s just, I don’t know, something genetic. All I know is that I’ve never gotten physically sick from a wild camera.

  • joe

    I believe you may be correct and what you said is exactly what I meant. It most likely is something genetic. It’s just saddening to hear that there’s so many people that have the same reaction. It even made CNN.com. I personnaly thought it was a great movie, and at no point during the movie did I feel nausea or motion sickness. I wonder… if I were to draw something on a paper and let one of them look at it while I shake it all around, would they get sick then too? It’s very sad to hear that so many people have no appreciation for the arts.

  • joe
  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=Vichus%20Smith V. Smith

    Um, yeah. I don’t know what agenda you’re on about, or why you think that linking to wikipedia makes any sense, but OK.

    For some reason you hate people for having a reaction they are not completely in control of.

    If you want to continue this conversation you can come here.

  • http://allmoviesearch.com Victor Nemo

    I went to see this movie not expecting much. I came out of the movie with a sense of amazement. This is because i love movies like Independence day and Godzilla and found out before hand i was not going to get many answers. So i just sat back and planned to enjoy the action and graphics. I was mind blown by what was going on and there are twist and turns with main characters dying and gut turning scenes.