Cloverfield: a Review

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*Spoiler Alert* There are spoilers ahead. Lots of them. If you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read any further. I mean it. Don’t even glance down there, because you will inevitably see something that you didn’t want to know, and all through the whole movie you’ll be wondering when that part is going to happen, sitting on the edge of your seat thinking, “Is this it? No, no, I bet this is it coming up…” etc. No fun. Suffice it to say, I liked this movie. A lot. And if you are my cinematic kindred spirit, so will you.

Cloverfield

Just like that, it was over. Abruptly. Paul and I sat there for a stunned second, just breathing in and out and trying to stop the room from spinning, before I leaned over to him and whispered in his ear: “I think…I think I loved it.”

Not everyone did, though. Just a few seats down the row from us, a couple in their forties got up in what was very clearly a huff and stomped off down the stairs. In their wake, the man left these words echoing in the strangely quiet theater: “Well, that was a waste of time.”

It’s been a long while since I’ve seen a movie that provoked such vastly polarized reactions. How delightful!

Cloverfield, a small budget monster movie, careens through one thrill after another over its eighty-four minute run time. It incorporates the single handheld-camera technique we’ve seen elsewhere (see The Blair Witch Project), and the effect is incredibly visceral and engaging.

Here’s the setup: We’re watching an unedited videotape, recovered by the government from the site of some event that’s been codenamed simply “Cloverfield”. The video opens with a few minutes of silly morning-after pillow talk between some guy (Rob) and some girl (Beth), and then suddenly cuts away to a group of twenty-something young professionals who are throwing a surprise goodbye party for one of their own: Rob just got a new job and is moving to Japan. Rob’s best friend, a lovable dope named Hud, is enlisted as amateur videographer of the party and given the assignment of recording goodbye messages from all of Rob’s buddies. As events unfold, Hud keeps the camera rolling, giving us a front row seat for the seriously unsettling action to come. Unfortunately, the camera belongs to Rob himself, and the night’s events are being recorded over a previous taping of Rob and Beth at Coney Island, a fact established by small snippets of that happier day which break through cuts in the tape at intervals throughout the movie. By the time of the party, something has obviously separated Rob and Beth, and a passionate argument ends in Beth leaving the party early and Rob and his brother Jason having a heart-to-heart talk on the fire escape. Here’s where the true theme of the movie is expressed for the first time, when Jason says, “Forget the world, and hang on to the people you care about the most.”

And then reality shatters and New York starts shaking apart like some badly made toy.

Cloverfield isn’t like other monster movies. There’s no explanation of where the monster comes from or why it’s angry (and believe me; it’s definitely hacked off about something.) The protagonists aren’t packing Uzis and concocting heroic plans to save the world. They’re just trying to survive. And we, the viewers, are along for the ride. We only know what they know. We only see what they see. So when a relatively quiet city street suddenly explodes with screaming artillery rounds and otherworldly roaring, we are caught in the crossfire, too, sharing the small group’s sense of panic and terror. When they’re standing in the abandoned subway station, trying to decide between running down the blacked out subway tunnels or taking their chances up top with the big monster, we honestly don’t know which way they should go. And even though the military-types don’t tell us exactly what’s happening to our friend Marlena as a result of the mini-monster-spider bite she got, we deduce that it’s nothing good by the way they drag her off behind that quarantine curtain just before we get the hazy, silhouetted visual of her body contorting and swelling in a way that bodies just aren’t meant to contort or swell.

It’s chaos: glorious, terrible chaos.

So I guess this is the part where I say, “Go see Cloverfield! You’ll love it!” But considering the wide range of opinions I’ve heard, that might be a little disingenuous. Instead I’ll say, “Go see Cloverfield! You’ll love it! Or maybe you’ll hate it.”

You might get dizzy. Sit in the back half of the theater; it helps. Maybe it’s part of belonging to the YouTube, camera phone generation, but the jumpy camera work didn’t really bother me. Rather, it added to the illusion that I was there, on the ground, watching this unbelievable thing happen all around me. And that sense of authenticity was only enhanced by another noticeable perk of seeing it in the theater, with its state-of-the-art Dolby surround sound: I could feel every roar, every stomp, every earth-shattering explosion vibrating through my seat.

I should also tell you that if you like your story endings happy, fully explained, and tied up with a neat little bow, you might be disappointed. This film leaves you with a lot of unanswered questions. Some of the answers can be found or guessed at by exploring the online materials that were part of the viral marketing of the movie, but a few of the plot threads were left completely flapping in the wind. Unlike many people, I appreciate that.

Paul and I discussed the movie all the way home, and in the end, we decided it isn’t so much a monster movie as it is a love story. Two people overcoming obstacles to find one another in this crazy world.

Except in this case, the obstacle in question is the size of a skyscraper, covered with deadly spider-like parasites, and wreaking havoc on a major American city.

Love conquers all, right?

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11 responses »

  1. Oooh! What an intriguing review! I have to admit, I first scanned past this post, down past the cute superhero thingie, then stopped at the YouTube trailer, which I watched.
    That left me somewhat stymied- what was going on? who was invading? aliens? terrorists? So I rocketed back up to the top of your blog and read this post… now I’m hooked!
    Dunno if I’ve mentioned this on either Soul Doubt or Huckleberries, but I’ve been hankering for a “dinner and a movie” night with Tony, thinking perhaps it might be just what the doctor ordered. I’d been wavering between several possible flicks, something mine and his dramatically different tastes might both converge upon, and I believe I may have found it. Thanks, Katrina…

  2. Great review! I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. At first I was concerned with the shaky camerawork, but I felt it was still a better production value than the Blair Witch project (which was a huge disappointment – sat in front row for that). As Younger Bro said when the silent credits rolled past, “That was like getting on a roller coaster ride and the park is empty so you get to keep going and going.”

    I also heard a rumor that if you look closely in the Rob/Beth Coney Island footage, you can see “something” drop out of the sky. Don’t know if that’s true or not. Intriguing though. Now, you and Paul need to find a copy of “The Host” and check that out. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Katrina, I kindly request you post something else, anything else: the contents of your refrigerator, the contents of your car, one of those “get to know me” lists…ANYTHING to remove that taunting spoiler alert that mocks me each time I check your blog. And although our taste in movies doesn’t always line up (ahem, “Best in Show” my Aunt Fanny) I do want to see Cloverfield, even though I’ll probably be one of those to get motion sickness since I can’t even play any of those computer games like “Halo” where you walk and look up, down and around at stuff without getting sick to my stomach and practically falling out of my chair. Anyway, how about a list of your favorite Scrabble words?!

  4. Lisa–Glad you liked it! I heard that rumor, too. Apparently (at least according to some of what I’ve read online), it was a Slusho satellite falling out of the sky, and might have been the trigger that woke up the monster from its undersea slumber. Hmmm….

    Kathy–Your wish is my command (although I want the record to show that I’m doing this grudgingly after your disparaging remarks about “Best In Show”.) I’m interested to hear what you think of Cloverfield after you see it! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. Thanks for the heads-up, Amy! I think I’d definitely be interested in seeing a sequel to this movie. I’m already trying to imagine what new angle they could use to approach it. Same day, different video footage? What happens AFTER the video cuts out? New monster? The possibilities are exciting!

  6. My comments on Cloverfield? I just about threw up in my popcorn bucket. Yes, the movie ended abruptly…about 28 minutes before the credits rolled. You have once again lost your movie recommendation privileges.

  7. I believe you were warned, young lady. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I think you should start taking my movie recommendations and applying them in reverse. Maybe that will work better! LOL!

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