Revisit – Rewatch – Review: Cloverfield
Every now and then I watch a movie that has been out for a while. There really isn’t a need on the internet for more reviews and thoughts on these movies, but we touch on all things nerdy here, so I’ve been wanting to write about some of them, because really why wouldn’t a nerdy site like ours want to touch on nerdy movies. So I’m borrowing the three R’s from conservation, okay, maybe those aren’t those, but you get the play on things I was going for. This is going to be the catch all for movie reviews as well, so when we do a new movie review, it’ll get posted under here as well. The final thing is that these reviews for older movies especially are going to be in two parts, the first being a more generic review of the movie for those who might not have heard about it before, the latter being a more spoiler filled part of the review, I’ll call that out when it happens.
So, this has been a movie that I’ve loved for a while. I saw it in theater whens it came out, and the marketing for Cloverfield has not been duplicated and rarely even tried to be duplicated. Let’s go back in our time machine and talk about the build up for Cloverfield.
The Build Up
Cloverfield was a rumored JJ Abrams project for a little while. He was still in the midst of Lost, and everyone wanted to know what his next project was. Even someone like myself who has never really enjoyed Lost and has only watched the first season and a half was curious because of it being JJ Abrams. Then it came out that this was going to be a creature feature and it got closer and closer to the release date. But instead of seeing trailers, seeing shots of the monster on posters and billboards, we got websites. We got conspiracy theory websites, we got news websites for the movie, there were sounds being released of this monster, but you never really got a full clue what it was. As it came time for the movie to come out, we just had bits and pieces of information and people were stoked for it. It was a horror movies/creature feature that had a build done is a completely unique and carefully planned out way.
Unfortunately, I didn’t go see it opening night, but there was a group of us friends, and we were interested in seeing it. We had heard a little bit more about it by then, but I’d managed to stay spoiler free. The experience of seeing this movie in a theater is a good spot to start describing it. We were maybe a week or so after opening, and the theater was still mostly full. The movie starts and you quickly get an idea of what is going on. With Cloverfield, I don’t think that there are a ton of actual surprises in the movie, a few, but not a ton. It’s a creature feature done with found footage and done really well. The characters are celebrating a friend leaving for a new job when there’s a disaster that starts. A monster is attacking New York City. You don’t know where it’s come from, you don’t know how it got there, and you don’t know what it really looks like for a while, you just know that there is a monster. We get to tag along with a group of characters from that going away party who are trying to escape New York City and find the people that they have gotten separated from.
I loved this movie from the first time I saw it. I had not been and to this day am still not a fan of found footage movies. I thought that The Blair Witch Project was dumb. This movie almost changed my mind on them and I gave a number of them a chance, I still think that it’s kind of sloppy normally. Cloverfield did a better job at creating a situation where it wasn’t as nauseating to watch, and it mattered that you didn’t know what was happening. There were moments of reprieve for the characters that you don’t often see, and there were moments of real life that were happening as the story unfolds. It wasn’t just a movie meant to scare you, in fact, for a movie that would be classified by some as a horror movie, there really wasn’t a ton of the horror to it. Action, most definitely, suspense, for sure, but the classic jump horror moments that plague so many horror movies, there weren’t a ton of them. It was about the characters and their struggle to survive, it wasn’t a found footage where someone had placed themselves into a bad situation, it’s where they had a bad situation placed around them, and now they had to deal with it and they did a great job in the acting, while not always the greatest, of dealing with it like normal humans. Very scared humans, but normal humans. There wasn’t any sense that these were special characters in the story, sure we got to see their story, but they weren’t a cut above the characters you saw in the background who were panicking and trying to escape, they were doing that as well.
So there we have my non-spoiler review. I think that covers it well enough to jump into more details about what I really enjoyed/found interesting in this movie.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
You have been warned.
I’m not going to recap it again, but just to add in some information. Everyone dies in the end, well, not everyone, theoretically one of the main characters escapes, but that is it. It’s something you could guess was going to happen. When the brother of one of the characters (fiance to another) gets killed off early in the movie, you know that no one is safe. The fact that the characters survive as long as they do is more luck than anything else. That makes it even more gripping.
Another piece that I appreciated was that the camera man, played by TJ Miller, for the found footage, was a bit of a goofy character. Once stuff starts going, that isn’t the case so much, but he handles it differently, the disaster/attack going on around him than the other characters do. His panic is unique to other peoples panic, and actually, the main characters, Hud, Lily, Marlena, and Rob, all have their own particular type of panic. They all have different things that they focus on. Rob is worried about Beth whom he loved but had broken up with recently. Hud is able to hold it together fairly well because he likes Marlena and because he can document everything. Lily is focused on the fact that her finance, Jason – who is Rob’s brother, just died as they were trying to escape. And with Marlena is actually what I’d call the most pure panic. She is loosely connected to the group, but is an outsider compared to the rest of them. She gets separated from them at the beginning and she’s clearly seen something horrible when she comes back. As much as Hud, TJ Miller’s character, tries to talk to her, she’s in many ways broken as a character, which is interesting to see.
Let’s talk about the monster. The monster doesn’t matter. Sounds weird, but I’d say it’s very much the case, the monster just needs to look good enough and monstrous enough that it’s scary. It could have been any sort of monster and worked. Now, that isn’t to say that it doesn’t look cool, it really does. And having the babies fall off of it, or maybe smaller monsters was a nice twist and set up some of the better horror aspects to the movie. But the suspense of not knowing about the monster is how the monster is used most effectively. At the end of the movie, we don’t know for sure where the monster has come from, we don’t know if it was doing this specifically or because monsters just attack cities in creature feature movies, we don’t know even how powerful it truly is, and that’s okay, because Cloverfield is a creature feature that isn’t mainly about the monster. It’s about the group of four characters and Rob’s need to save Beth. And that’s good, if it was about the monster, you wouldn’t have been about to do found footage like they did.
Finally, as time has gone by, and I just watched it three weeks ago, maybe four now, how has it held up? I personally think that Cloverfield has held up really well. The CGI for the monster is good, and the whole found footage style works extremely well. Just to touch on that again, what I love about this found footage style is that movies like Welcome to the Jungle (so horrible) and The Blair Witch Project are made a horror movies first and foremost. They are about people going out of their way to put themselves into a horrible situation and then reacting poorly to that situation. As characters, they almost always had the ability to go back and leave well enough alone, but they never did. They always kept on poking the bear, going further and further into danger, but in Cloverfield, that wasn’t an option for these characters. They were actively trying to run away from the danger instead of filming themselves being stupid, they were filming it because, as Hud puts it, people have to know what happened here. There’s no trying to be cool, trying to get famous, and trying to prove a legend like there was in the other two, it’s purely characters in a bad situation trying to do what they think they have to do. At the core of that, that’s what I really like about Cloverfield, it’s a monster movie, but the monster is just a piece in the background, it’s really a story about Rob, Lily, Hud, Marlena, and Beth, and how they fight to survive something horrible and what matters to them as as characters. Is it a cinematic masterpiece, no, but it’s a really well done movie that takes you on a pretty crazy ride and tells an interesting story, and when I watch a movie, that’s what I want, and Cloverfield does that well.
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