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Cloverfield (2008)

Cloverfield review (click for larger image)Reviewed by Andrew Kasch

Starring Mike Vogel, Jessica Lucas, Lizzy Caplan, Michael Stahl-David

Directed by Matt Reeves


Ah, hype. It has the power to crush a movie faster than the tallest rampaging lizard. No matter how good the product is, it can rarely compete with what is built up in viewer’s minds, and it’s hard to remember anything more built-up than Cloverfield – the little J.J. Abrams mystery project that’s had the world at attention for the past six months. So how does it all measure up in the end?

Pretty damn well, provided you keep your expectations in check. Cloverfield is a balls-to-the-wall ride of a monster movie – nothing more, nothing less.

Like all creature features, we kick off with the calm before the storm. A group of friends are experimenting with a video camera around New York, documenting the farewell party of good-buddy Rob, who leaves for Japan the following day. But Japan comes to him first when a giant monster suddenly emerges from the harbor and begins to lay waste to the city. With camera rolling, Rob and his buddies haul ass through the decimated streets, hoping to find a way out of the city while all hell breaks loose around them.

Cloverfield review (click for larger image)It seems like only yesterday we suffered through the terrible post-Blair Witch fad of “found footage” movies, each one worse than the last. Though they were collectively sworn off, this past year has seen a major resurgence only with much better results. Movies like Diary of the Dead (review), Paranormal Activity (review), and [Rec] (review) have all been winners; and Cloverfield fits perfectly into the same mold of intense cinéma-vérité … So why are all these films suddenly proving successful? Maybe it’s the fact that, instead of cashing in on a trend, each one seems like a natural reaction to this age of viral media. There’s a great moment towards the beginning of Cloverfield (as seen in the trailer) when the Statue of Liberty’s head hits the street. Instead of fleeing for their lives, half the eyewitnesses whip out their camera phones and gather around the rubble for pictures.

The film moves fast and furious and uses its first-person perspective to amp up the realism. The best thing about a cinéma-vérité monster movie is how the creators give you a real sense of scale. When Saving Private Ryan was first released, there were reports of WWII veterans having flashbacks during the battle scenes, and I suspect Cloverfield will have the same effect on New Yorkers. The shaky-cam ground images of falling buildings and fleeing masses bear more than a passing resemblance to 9/11, which is oddly fitting since Godzilla was Japan’s answer to the atomic bomb.

Cloverfield review (click for larger image)Cloverfield‘s creature, while not exactly iconic, is still an impressive creation and delivers scenes of astonishing carnage while spawning dozens of smaller creatures (which we first told you about here: “Exclusive Cloverfield Info!” — August 2007) that make your skin crawl. The FX are all digital, but the action is so frantic and the sound design so chilling that you’re easily caught up in the moment without focusing on the low-budget computer animation. In most cases you barely have time to process what you’re seeing before racing to the next crumbling set-piece. Of course, in a movie filled with lots of running and screaming, you generally don’t get much in the way of characters, but the filmmakers at least give us a good sense of the protagonists through realistic performances and quick thumbnail characterization.

Nothing about Cloverfield is particularly groundbreaking, and the whole thing is over in a flash, but it delivers on its simple promise of wild thrills and wanton destruction. At the very least, those still hurting from the abysmal U.S. Godzilla remake will be thrilled to see New York get its long overdue monster thrashing. Just be sure to stick around during the end credits to hear the creature’s theme (appropriately titled “Roar! – Cloverfield Suite”), which is a brilliant send-up of that classic Toho kaiju music we all love.

4 out of 5

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  • Evil Alien

    Andrew, I was reading your review of “Hard Candy” and you said this of the film, “…he’s [David Slade] over-reliant on close-ups and annoying shaky cams.” Annoying shaky cams? I see what you are getting at with “HC” but geez, if you have an eye for ‘annoying shaky cams’ then “Cloverfield” should be your dream film to point this out. Is it because “Cloverfield” is SUPPOSED to be first person POV matter? I don’t think so. Why? Because this is fiction. It’s all made up. It’s supposed to be enjoyable to watch. As I believe you infer in the “HC” review this can be used well and it can be used to the detriment of the work. The latter ruined “Cloverfield” imho…

    • Sirand

      For the record, I’m usually defending most shaky-cam use these days. The Hard Candy photography even bugged me more than 30 Days of Night, where I didn’t have much of an issue with. But I never complain with cinema-verite. Regardless of it being fiction, it doesn’t make sense if a POV camcorder looks fluid and perfect.

  • Rob

    Well this is rather delayed, but I wanted to be able to see the movie all the way through before making a review, because the first time I had to walk out for five minutes because of motion sickness, which has never happened to me before, but this movie…I knew it was a shaky cam going into it, I prepared for the worst, but that didn’t stop it from surpassing my expectations.

    What’s strange is no one else in my theater had that problem. Half of my audience had fallen asleep by the time the movie was over.

    But shaky cam aside, I enjoyed it, it was a good monster movie with a very cool looking beast, not to mention the parasite creatures. I had some issues with the characters but at the same time I liked them, it was a bit of a love hate relationship, except for Hud and Marlena, they were my favorites. And I loved the end theme, great piece of music.

  • Evil Alien

    This movie made me think of this analogy: Imagine someone reading you the King short story that spawned “The Mist.” Now imagine that the person reading the story is Fran Dresser (aka The Nanny). Sure, you have some fun moments and some good humor but the fact that the voice you are hearing is annoying as fuck is something that you just can’t let go of. I think this movie could have been just as good with half the first person camera crap. I mean, most skate vids on YouTube by drunk teens have less annoying camera pans. How real does one want their “reality”?

  • Kryten Syxx

    I don’t think JJ is going to let it die. After seeing that quick glimpse of the Dharma Initiative symbol during the opening of Cloverfield, I suspect he is going to try to fit the events of the film into the Lost universe.

  • Messiahman

    Actually, the common comments have nothing to do with the fact that there was no exposition.

    The common comments, indeed, are that the characters were vapid, one-dimensional yuppie scum. They were caricatures, not characters. Is it too much to ask for compelling characters in a “character based” monster movie? These people were dull and uninteresting — spending 70 minutes with them was excruciating. They’re the type of mindless hipsters that, when they start showing up at your local dive bar or hidden hole-in-the-wall restaurant, you know that things are changing for the worse.

    New classic? Nope. It’s a blip on the radar, nothing more.

    The backlash on this film, once people have gotten over the hype, is going to be huge. It’s a fad-movie based solely on a gimmick and viral marketing that will be forgotten in a year.

  • Ksayac

    Loved this movie. The common comment from the folks who dislike it “they didn’t explain things!”

    …..morons.

    To loosely paraphrase Stephen King, stuff that happens for no good reason is scarier. (Ever read “The Moving Finger” ?) The information age has ruined this generation, because they demand explanations, details and the why’s and how’s.

    The not-knowing makes it so much more powerful an experience.
    People who need it all spelled out for them are douche bags.

  • Kryten Syxx

    Stay tuned. The Cloverfield Dinner For Fiends is coming very soon!

  • thedudeabides

    “Cloverfield” a monster at box office

    http://movies.yahoo.com/mv/news/va/20080120/120087037100.html

    Quote:
    “Cloverfield” a monster at box office
    Sunday January 20 3:06 PM ET

    “Cloverfield,” a low-budget Godzilla-style horror movie, scared up a monstrous $41 million opening at the weekend box office in North America, almost twice the tally of the new romance “27 Dresses.”

    According to studio estimates issued on Sunday, “27 Dresses” opened at No. 2 with $22.4 million, while last weekend’s champ “The Bucket List” fell to No. 3 with almost $15.2 million. The top-10 contained one other new release, “Mad Money,” which opened at No. 7 with just $7.7 million.

    “Cloverfield,” a $25 million movie with a no-name cast from Paramount Pictures, set a record for a January release, surpassing the $35.9 million reissue of “Star Wars” in 1997.

    ADVERTISEMENT

    It will also set a record for the Martin Luther King holiday weekend. “Black Hawk Down” earned $33.6 million during the four-day period in 2002. Paramount said its movie will earn more than $47 million after the Monday holiday is included.

    Box office observers had expected “Cloverfield” to open in the $20 million range for the three-day period, a little ahead of “27 Dresses.” They largely discounted Paramount’s unusual forecast last week that the order would be reversed.

    While the two movies appeared to target completely different audiences delineated by gender, the positively-reviewed “Cloverfield” played more broadly than expected.

    Paramount said men comprised 60 percent of the audience, and 55 percent of moviegoers were aged under 25. The audience for “27 Dresses” was three-quarters female, Fox said.

    RAMPAGE ACROSS NEW YORK

    “Cloverfield” marks a reunion between director Matt Reeves and producer J.J. Abrams, the creators of the cult TV show “Felicity.” Seen exclusively through the lens of a camcorder, it follows a group of youngsters on the run from a monster rampaging across New York. Paramount, a unit of Viacom Inc, employed a word-of-mouth marketing campaign for the film, highlighting the image of a beheaded Statue of Liberty.

  • Terminal

    Cloverfield was fantastic. Motherfucking fantastic. I’m seeing it again.

  • thedudeabides

    It’s cool. My post reads a lot harsher than I even intended it to be. Sorry about that.

  • Kryten Syxx

    You’re right Dude, the mysteries of marketing are far beyond me. Thank you for informing me.

  • thedudeabides

    The reason for the “viral BS” as that the creators gave the audience the option to gain more information, speculation and view than the average person who is only going by what they see on screen.

    Why the reason for prequels? Why the reason for backstory? If the only “real” or “legitmate” aspect of reality is what is shown on a movie screen, then explain how many movies or TV shows gain immense followings in the comic or print or television format.

    Many people enjoyed the viral aspect of this movie. It was the build up of anticipation, the actual progression of storyline before they even saw the “big event” movie. To them it wasn’t BS.

    And since the viral aspect built a following, made people interested, gave them a mystery, etc. it’s pretty damn effective marketing. And a lot cheaper than massive TV advertising. It’s actually pretty simple from a marketing standpoint if you know anything about making money for your product.

  • DW Bostaph Jr

    i think i liked the Host as much as this, but on different levels.

    but i agree that Cloverfield delivered on everything it promised us..

  • Kryten Syxx

    SPOILERS

    Overall Cloverfield is a fun time that could have been even better. Great creature (too bad we see so little of it). The shaky cam was a bit of a bitch, but only when Hud decided to film his friends instead of the amazing action going on around him. “Hey, there’s a huge monster! I better just tape my buds rather than this once in a lifetime opportunity!”

    We also really could have done away with the first 20 minutes of the film. Beth and Rob’s relationship never felt solid enough to take time away from a big fucking monster destroying NY.

    I am still trying to figure out how the creature just snuck up on the gang after the helicopter scene.

    Another thing I didn’t understand is why there was so much viral BS about Slusho, deep sea drilling, ect. if the monster fell to Earth in the first place. It was like building up this great origin to be explored in future films and totally throwing it in the trash with one big splash outside Coney Island.

  • Johnny Butane

    Gotta agree with the “new classic” line, even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense (the line, not the movie); this was everything I wanted it to be and it had a decent plot on top of it! Didn’t really see that one coming.

    And while opinions may differ about which monster movie is better, I’m just fucking stoked there are now so many to choose from!

  • Undeadmin

    I agree with Steve. The Host had a lot going for it but it doesnt stack up the the level of monster goodness this film had. And The Mist is a totally different kind of movie in the first place and was more of a Land of the Lost kind appeal than a Godzilla appeal.

  • Uncle Creepy

    See, now other than the beginning and the end, The Host bored me to tears. I enjoyed Coverfield every bit as much as The Mist, and yes, I’d venture to call it a future classic. It gave me every single thing that I wanted in a monster movie.

  • Sirand

    In no way would I call this “a classic.” It’s fun, but The Mist and The Host were far superior and worked on more levels.

  • Undeadmin

    First off, holy shit this film lives up to the hype.

    Before I begin praising the high hell out of this movie though let me tell you the one issue I have with it. It’s not even that big of a deal but for me personally the whole “your in the middle of this” immersion of the first person point of view didn’t work for me. And Im not saying that is a bad thing like they failed to do it right, that’s not what I mean. When I say it didn’t work for me I mean literally for me. There were many other people in the showing with me who would say otherwise. So I gladly write that off as a “not my kind of story telling device” kind of thing.

    A minor gripe for a film like this to say the least. This is by far the best “giant-fucking-monster” since Godzilla. And I thought The Host was good, and it was, just not this good. I was very worried that the hype would kill this movie, or that the film would just fall short of my expectations. Neither could be farther from what actually took place on the screen.

    Theres just enough exposition to make you happy, and very little explanation. Which is a good thing. This isn’t a movie about why or how it happened, it’s a movie about what happened. Like Hud said “People will want to watch this.”

    The theme from the film “Roar!” is reminiscent of probably every major monster flick you ever loved. The monster itself looks awesome and before you think the way it is shot using a first person POV hides anything of the monster know that is not the case. You see it, clearly and up close several times, you’ll get more than enough chances to look at this thing.

    This will easily be a classic for this generation. I envy the kids going to see this movie. Thankfully it is PG-13 for their sake, because I imagine seeing this for them was like when I saw my first Indiana Jones movie. I assure you this movie will find a home in the hearts of todays kids the way Godzilla did in ours.

    Cloverfield delivers on all the right notes:
    Huge fucking monster
    Characters we care about
    Huge fucking monster
    Destruction and mayhem
    Huge fucking monster
    An intense journey through a ruined city
    Huge fucking monster
    Amazingly shot and edited
    Huge fucking monster
    Awesome score
    Huge fucking monster

    I might have left out the huge fucking monster part. And it should be noted that said huge fucking monster is really pissed off.

    5 out of 5

  • Uncle Creepy

    Just saw the movie. It took my breath away. It was by far the best damned monster movie I’ve seen in many many years.

    The end theme was the perfect exclamation point on the experience. The crowd, myself included, even applauded the music!

    To use the word amazing in an understatement.

    As for the 9/11 type stuff some folks are complaining about … These comparisons were bound to happen, but you know what?I was there in the thick of it that morning. I experienced the falling buildings and the giant dust clouds. The raining paper. The med units set up everywhere. I lost my best friend that day, and my life has forever been changed. Changed so much so that I had to leave that place just to get my head together. I’m as close to that tragedy as anyone ever could be.

    That being said …

    At no point did the destruction scenes in Cloverfield upset me. At no point did I feel it was exploitative. As a matter of fact it was kind of cathartic. If NYC is gonna be destroyed, I’d rather it be by a giant monster or some other “natural” occurrence than the true horrors that became forever etched in my memory.

    Here’s the facts — when buildings fall they make a mess. Cloverfield handled that imagery realistically. Can we never see a structure in a film fall again without being afraid someone would be offended? Would anyone be bitching if it took place anywhere other than NYC?

    Cloverfield is this monster movie fan’s dream film. I would have given it an easy 5 out of 5.

    Hud was the man!

  • Uncle Creepy

    Nope when we first reported this everyone got on the old more rumors and BS bandwagon.

  • Johnny Butane

    Yes, I believe it was…. Mayhap Steve is crazy.

  • thedudeabides

    Didn’t other sites also report the same news? I thought the smaller monster story was pretty much accepted in the mainstream media when it was first reported.

  • DW Bostaph Jr

    What DC can do news? What will the world think of next?

  • Uncle Creepy

    I remember us getting so much shit about posting that news story from August. Turns out we were dead on. Score one for DC.