Cloverfield: Finishing al-Qaeda’s Work

SOME THING HAS FOUND US.

 

The marketing campaign was brilliant. Few had talked about Cloverfield before the first teaser trailer, but after that it was on everybody’s mind. What is this? A disaster movie? A monster movie? Is it about 9/11? The clues were sparse, but enough to generate a lot of buzz. All we knew was that some thing or power had ripped the head off of the Statue of Liberty and thrown it down a Manhattan street. They certainly had our attention.

The movie is pretty much all of the above; it’s the Blair Witch Project version of Godzilla. The first half-hour allows us to get acquainted with the lead characters and their relationships. Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David) has been promoted and is soon leaving for Japan. His friends decide to throw him a going-away party and Hud Platt (T.J. Miller) is given the task of capturing the party with a hand-held video camera. After a while, Beth McIntyre (Odette Yustman) arrives at the party with a guy in tow; Rob is upset since he thought he and Beth had a thing going. They argue and Beth leaves. Shortly thereafter, a minor earthquake ends the party. It is soon clear that the ground didn’t shake because of seismic activity; New York City is under attack. A giant creature of some kind has suddenly appeared and it is seriously pissed. As it begins to destroy the city, the military gathers its forces and they start attacking the creature with every kind of firepower available to them, which only serves to make the monster angrier. When Rob learns that Beth is trapped in her apartment, he decides to go back into the inferno and save the love of his life.

Creating a 9/11 atmosphere
The entire film is presented as footage rescued from the video camera and the filmmakers have done a good job convincing us that these are real horrors captured by a regular guy. As a friend of mine pointed out, the sound is of course awfully impressive for a simple video camera but that’s a problem we’re happy to ignore. On paper, the story is ridiculous and old-hat but by focusing on how citizens are affected by a huge disaster, how a city can turn into a dark, dangerous and smoke-filled war zone, and employing first-rate special effects, the filmmakers effectively create a mood reminiscent of 9/11. It’s an original take on an old concept and even the monster looks scary (not forgetting its creepy crab-like parasites). Director Matt Reeves’s footage of the party reminds me at first of his TV show Felicity, which is a nice touch… but he then goes on to prove that he can stage moments of tension and horror that compete with the best. The young actors are likable enough; some may dismiss the value of the party sequence, but it is essential in order to build our feelings for them. It is also up to these Felicity cast wannabes to give the film a discreet sense of humor – and they do.

There’s a scene near the end where the monster in all its rage is caught on camera going berserk. It’s a horrifying image, one that instantly makes you realize that the battle is lost, that the city will indeed cease to exist. It’s quite an accomplishment to do what no Godzilla flick has ever done – make you forget that you’re watching a silly monster movie and start fearing an apocalypse of this kind.

Cloverfield 2008-U.S. 85 min. Color. Produced by J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk. Directed by Matt Reeves. Screenplay: Drew Goddard. Cast: Lizzy Caplan (Marlena), Jessica Lucas (Lily Ford), T.J. Miller (Hud Platt), Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman.

Trivia: Followed by 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016).

Last word: “What really happened was that during ‘Mission Impossible 3’, J.J. took his son to Japan for the premiere. While they were there, they visited a toy store in Tokyo. They saw shelf after shelf, row after row, of Godzilla toys. Just this huge toy store filled with toys. The image was really striking to J.J. He said, ‘Look at this. This is like a national monster.’ He started thinking, ‘You know, we need our own national monster.’ Obviously King Kong is kind of a national monster but not really in that way. That’s a great movie and he’s a legendary figure in film lore, but it’s not really the same thing. So the way that Godzilla was sort of a metaphor for the time, and for that place, the idea of creating a new monster for this time and place came about. It’s an original monster, and a monster that was inspired, really, by Godzilla.” (Reeves, LAist)

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