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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Cloverfield (review)

Monster Takes Manhattan

It’s “just” a monster movie, right? Worse, it’s the monster movie that has been drowning in Internet hype — a fan-driven mania prompted by pseudo-secretive viral marketing produced by the filmmakers — for months, so much so that I was tired of hearing about how little we knew about the movie ages ago. There’s no way Cloverfield could possibly be worth the to-do. Could it?
Before I saw the movie, I thought: Impossible. Impossible to imagine that there’s anything new to be done with the monster movie. Impossible to imagine the monster could be scary-cooler than the creature from last year’s Korean new-millennium horror-comedy The Host. And now? Now that I’ve seen Cloverfield? It’s hard to imagine how anyone will top this. It’s magnificent in its harsh reality. It is the monster movie remade for the 21st-century, post-9/11 world.

Of course, one might question whether we need a new kind of monster movie for the post-9/11 world: indeed, there are moments here that induced a kind of 9/11 flashback in me, sights that once we would have considered ridiculous that we now know are all too real. Collapsing buildings blowing out huge gusts of dust. Dazed and dirty people dressed in their best, interrupted at work or play, now wandering in the streets helplessly. Some people said the things we saw, we all saw on TV or in person, on 9/11 looked like a movie. Well, now here’s a movie that looks like 9/11. I don’t exaggerate when I saw that some folks — you know who you are — may want to avoid it because of that.

But there’s something therapeutic in it, too, which sounds weird but works just fine. Maybe because for all the ridiculousness of the sitution — a giant thing is rampaging through Manhattan in a frenzy of killing and wanton destruction — how we see it is kept small and intimate and believable. It’s a way to manage the horror of it, a way to take it in without being overwhelmed by it.

A gang of 20something friends is sending their pal Rob (Michael Stahl-David) off to a job in Japan with a big party; their pal Hud (T.J. Miller) is documenting the party with a camcorder, gathering well-wishes for Rob from the partygoers. And then there’s a bang, and the lights go out… It’s funny, actually: the first 20 minutes or so of the film are given over to the party, and by 10 minutes in, I was grumbling to myself that they should just get to the monster already. By 20 minutes in, I was so caught up in the soap opera of romantic entanglements and whispered gossip keeping the party alive that when disaster finally struck, it was genuinely startling. And the rest of the film hardly seems like a film at all: it feels like a found document, which the meta-story pretends it is. This videotape, “military” placards tell us as the movie opens, was found in the area “formerly known as Central Park,” and is now top-secret. We’re not supposed to be seeing this.

Director Matt Reeves and screenwriter Drew Goddard — members of producer JJ Abrams TV teams from shows like Lost and Alias — have crafted a perfectly executed hoax. Everything — the monster, the destruction of the city, and other horrible, horrible things — are seen through Hud’s camcorder. We never leave the sides of Rob and Hud and a few others of their friends. We like them, these people who are under stress and running for their lives. We recognize them. They’re us. (Who they most emphatically are not is movie stars. This would not have worked with famous faces, no matter how talented. The unknown cast give brutally authentic performances, but it is their everyperson anonymity that makes us believe them.) And we recognize their situation because we’ve seen it on the news and on YouTube and Flickr: the smoke-filled tunnels, the collapsing stairwells. This is, we now know, where disasters happen: in tiny enclosed spaces jammed with frightened people.

We see the monster. We do. But we get mostly only glimpses of it as fear takes over Hud and he turns to run or drops the camera or whatever. He wants to document what he’s seeing — he’s a child of the new millennium, too, who knows people will want to see this. But the damn thing is so big

And what we see of the creature is so frustrating — in a good, keep-you-in-suspense way — and so tantalyzing that the whole film becomes endlessly engaging, if not always in a pleasant way. Cloverfield is horrific, unleavened by snarky asides from an action hero who will save the day, uninterrupted by any distractions whatsoever outside the sheer terror of the moment. By the time it was over, I was sure I had sat there for three hours (the film actually runs, without credits, only 80 minutes), and equally sure that no time at all had passed. It rocked me, left me hungry for more, and not certain if I’d ever be able to sit through it again.

Though I probably will.

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MPAA: rated PG-13 for violence, terror and disturbing images

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
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  • Ide Cyan

    Godzilla meets the Blair Witch Project, then?

  • WriterGuy

    Damn. I’ve got to go see this.

  • Russ

    I hated the film for numerous reasons and would’ve liked seeing a different setting to New York, but it was good to get Mary-Ann’s view. As was the case with Blair Witch, it’ll do much better in North America than overseas, where it’s been under marketed and under promoted by Paramount. You can imagine the send up this mediocre film will get in an inevitable Scary Movie 5.

  • Drave

    Only six hour until I get to see it! *squeak*

  • misterb

    tantalyzing->tantalizing

    Sorry about the spelling OCD.

  • Drave

    MaryAnn, you NAILED it with this review. One of the most fantastic movies I have seen in years.

  • MaryAnn

    would’ve liked seeing a different setting to New York

    Like where? There are only a few cities where it could have been set, because it requires recognizable landmarks. Plus, very few cities have New York’s canyons, which are pretty essential for creating suspense here: the monster can disappear around a building and be out of sight again.

  • What is that, blogspamming?

    I’m planning to go see Cloverfield tonight or tomorrow night. I really liked Blair Witch, so it’ll be interesting to see that approach applied to a monster movie.

  • Awesome .. I’ve been looking up reviews and info for this film, and it seems to be getting pretty solid ratings. And it’s really interesting that they’re promoting the film with the fallen Statue of Liberty..it definitely sets an undertone of the America being attacked..Maxim actually did a little bit on it.
    http://www.maxim.com/Entertainment/MoviesThatMangletheStatueofLiberty/slideshow/673.aspx?src=dx18:mtd

  • MaryAnn

    Except there’s no context within the film for “America” being attacked. It’s recognizable New York landmark accidentally damaged by a creature that we know nothing about… except it’s pretty clear from the film that it *is* a creature, not something with a motive beyond its own animal rage.

  • MBI

    Also important to note is that New York has very few ways out of it. If you want to get out of most cities, you can just keep driving in one direction.

  • I agree with Godzilla meets Blair Witch. ;-) It was a good movie, enjoyable in parts, but for me, not great. I even wrote a “less than excited” verdict about the movie on my blog. I was one of the lucky people who got to sit in the front row, so the shaky camera thing left me queasy reallly fast. Despite not being thrilled about the movie, I’d love to see a sequel that explains what the heck was going on. :-P

  • I agree with Godzilla meets Blair Witch. ;-) It was a good movie, enjoyable in parts, but for me, not great. I even wrote a “less than excited” verdict about the movie on my blog. I was one of the lucky people who got to sit in the front row, so the shaky camera thing left me queasy reallly fast. Despite not being thrilled about the movie, I’d love to see a sequel that explains what the heck was going on. :-P

    (PS – I may have submitted this one too many times due to a computer error. If so, I’m sorry!)

  • Caught Cloverfield last night. Great flick, but I am not sure it stands up to repeated viewings. I’m not sure which is better, this movie or The Mist… both were really well made and had excellent creature design, and they were both pretty intense.

  • I thought it was great too, especially because it dared to have a really different ending than many of the movies that inspired it… that is, if you can really call it an ending. My poor husband should have taken some Dramamine. He was too sick to drive afterward.

  • MaryAnn

    Also important to note is that New York has very few ways out of it. If you want to get out of most cities, you can just keep driving in one direction.

    Excellent point!

  • I saw Cloverfield today. It’s a 60-minute long theme park ride. It was fun; good but not great. I did love the limited narrator (everything seen through that one camera).

  • Russ

    I’d like to have seen it set in either Las Vegas, with all the interesting visual sights and buildings it has and / or Washington DC (with the monster emerging from Potomac river), with the interesting sights and buildings Wash DC also has (while still refraining from showing scenes of any politicians and / or a US president talking), but acknowledge both locations would be more expensive and harder to film in. Maybe something to consider for a sequel, that wouldn’t do very well anyway.

  • Brook

    Saw it tonight and absolutely loved it. I can’t remember the last time I was able to get so lost in a popcorn movie – Last of the Mohicans maybe?

    Cloverfield is fantastic and I can’t really imagine improving on it. It is a love letter to Lovecraft and since I grew up steeped in that mythology I was just giddy watching it.

  • MaryAnn

    But this movie needs a city with canyons created by skyscrapers. It’s necessary for keeping the monster from our sight for as long as it is. Set it in Washington DC and it would have been very different.

  • PaulW

    Few cities have the ‘landscape’ that Manhattan/New York has. Chicago comes closest, in terms of the skyscrapers, the claustrophobic streets, the occasional bridge. There’s an excellent entry on New York City in the ‘Encyclopedia of Fantasy’ that really gets what NYC is in the minds of readers and viewers: to us, it is the definitive city. Like it or not, whenever we try to imagine a city, NYC is our default mode. Remember the second movie of The Punisher? They based it in Tampa. Did the cityscape really make you think ‘Epic Revenge Story’ the way it could have been if it was based in NYC? This is why the American version of Godzilla had a Pacific-based monster swim all the way around the globe to reach New York, even though it made no sense and San Francisco would have been more appropriate…

    We got our Monster-Destroys-DC fix anywho, with Independence Day. UFO blows up White House = Money Shot.

  • WriterGuy

    “Godzilla meets the Blair Witch Project, then?”

    Let’s try not to copy and paste next time: http://movies.msn.com/movies/movie.aspx?m=2142831&mp=cr#Review_0.

  • WriterGuy, a million movie critics, both professional and amateur, all came up with the phrase “Godzilla meets Blair Witch” on their own. Why? Because that’s absolutely the most succinct way to describe this movie.

  • Allen Darrah

    I don’t know if I could have been happier with Cloverfield. Somehow, by some calamity of chance, I missed all of the pre-movie adverthype. I really didn’t know much about it other than the phrase my group of friends used to describe it when we invited more and more from our fold to go see it: “it’s a giant monster movie.”
    The Kansas City Star’s print commentary from Butler, which, it might be worthwhile to note I usually loathe Buter, was spot-on: the limited vision from Hud’s camera made the movie great, whereas if we’d only been watching it would have been good.
    The one scene that sold me and allowed me to truly suspend my disbelief was when the entire party crowded up to the roof to get a better view of the developing chaos, and, as fiery rubble showered on them the camera’s audio kept cutting out. From that point on I was on board and loved every second of the brief ride.
    I love cheering “that was great!” as I walk out of a theatre… such a rarity.

  • Avishai

    If you show this to somebody pre-911, and tell them it is actual footage, the person watching would be really freaked. This felt so real.

  • Best Cloverfield Spoof Trailer ever : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSRMJO6yIkc

  • MaryAnn

    It’s pretty sad if that’s the best trailerspoofers could come up…

  • JoshDM

    The part where the girl asks what this is for and HUD in the background whispers, “Bob has cancer.” and she responds, “WE’LL MISS YOU, BOB!” had me rolling.

  • tim

    I thought it was a very good film, but I wonder if a couple of tweaks could have lifted it up into the “great” catagory?

    1. Set the movie in San Francisco and avoid the unnecessary (and almost distracting) comparisons to 9.11. S.F. offers the same sense of enclosure, ocean access, and landmarks.

    2. Use the same filming style as Saving Private Ryan. You get the same effect without the obvious problems associated with pretending this was filmed by a guy with a camcorder. You also negate the (again) unnecessary and distrating comparisons to Blair Witch Project.

    It was definitely invigorating and suspenseful though. I wonder how it’ll play on DVD?

  • As MaryAnn has already pointed out, you need this movie to take place in NYC because no other city on the planet has the same dense canyon-creating array of skyscrapers. Cities like SF and Tokyo and London have tall buildings, to be sure, but it’s simply not the same.

  • MaryAnn

    Setting this in San Fran would not eliminate the inevitable allusions to 9/11. This movie is *about* 9/11, in a lot of ways, in the same way that *Godzilla* was *about* Japan trying to cope with being a-bombed. The allusions to 9/11 are not accidental: they are inherent.

  • Brian

    Speaking of Dramamine, I, too, left the movie feeling queasy, and it wasn’t because of the shaking of the camera, or the content of the movie itself — it was because of a lot of very high frequency noise on the soundtrack (and perhaps low frequency noise as well). Since the speakers in that theater seem to be okay, and the “noise” didn’t seem random, I wondered if it had been deliberately introduced, to unsettle the viewer, but that’s obviously a guess. In any case, I left with my ears hurting, and hoping that I hadn’t damaged my hearing over a movie that I hadn’t liked very much.

    Yes, there’s a lot of Lovecraft in it, which in this case is a good thing — the universe as too vast to be anything but indifferent to the very existence of human beings. Pity that gets thrown away at the end, when the monster seems to be making a special effort to kill, and for the first time you get to see it clearly (which I think is also a mistake).

    Good idea for a movie, one that you’d really like to come off, and Drew Goddard is who you’d want writing it, but I’m afraid it didn’t work for me. JJ Abrams at this stage in his career reminds me of early Spielberg, when he seemed fixated on suburban consumerism — very talented but also callow. Of course, the rest of the analogy is that mature Spielberg is a much different story.

  • Of course, one might question whether we need a new kind of monster movie for the post-9/11 world.

    I question whether we need a new kind of monster movie for the post-9/11 world.

    Saw it last night, good movie, well done, still hated it. Also, felt that carpet bombing would have been more effective in real life than it was in the movie. That normally wouldn’t bother me, but the movie was trying so hard to be real (aside from the movie’s central plot point of a giant monster).

  • Robert

    Directors sure seem to love decimating NYC. I just saw A.I. for the first time the other day – there too NYC is in ruins. I’m sure it’s because it’s so iconic, *the* big American city. No doubt why it was chosen as a target by the 9/11 attackers.

    They could have eased up considerably on the Quease-A-Vision, particularly during the early movie. Yeah, we get it, it’s supposed to look like it was filmed by a consumer camcorder. So what model camcorder is this that takes images as good as a mega-buck professional movie camera – and with cinematic stereo sound – but *doesn’t* have steady-shot? ;-)

    Overall I thought it was engaging, though for a film trying for ultra-realism, there were some oddly unrealistic elements. This girl has been laying there impaled by a metal rod through her chest which is then ripped out, which by itself is likely to kill her, and next thing you know she’s dashing through the streets instead of dying from shock and blood loss.

    I thought leaving it unexplained was a good touch. There’s a natural desire to have it explained and understood but the central characters don’t ever find out what it was, and we don’t either.

  • MaryAnn

    Beth was not impaled through her chest: she was impaled through her shoulder. Bleeds a lot, hurts like hell, probably won’t heal completely, but not a fatal wound.

  • Robert

    [blockquote]Beth was not impaled through her chest: she was impaled through her shoulder. Bleeds a lot, hurts like hell, probably won’t heal completely, but not a fatal wound.[/blockquote]

    The debate over whether it was “the chest” or “the shoulder” aside, you can die from a run-through injury like that anywhere. Ask a paramedic or a doctor. Anything I’ve ever heard is to NOT remove the object and let medical pros remove it because it could be keeping arteries that are severed from rapidly bleeding out and/or causing even more damage.

    Though she was basically unconscious when they found her – presumably from pain, shock & blood loss – remember her voicemail message “I’m bleeding I’m bleeding” – once they clumsily yanked her off of it and dragged her down to the street again, she seemed to have completely shaken it off and didn’t even seem to suffer any particular debilitation.

    I know, it’s a movie.

  • Robert

    Oops. Wrong brackets for the blockquote. I’ve got BBcode on the brain.

    Btw, why am I getting constant data transfer in the background when I’m on your site, even well after the page has loaded? It stops as soon as I bail out of your site.

  • Hdj

    I dont think she was worth going back for, Thats just me though, Soon as I saw that thing roaring, Id be like “yeah I think its time to swim acrossed the Hudson river”. Thats my thoughts why dont people just swim acrossed the river to New Jersey?

  • the Making Light blogsite has an interesting entry from James MacDonald (author *and* EMS guy) on the rights and wrongs of the actions of the Cloverfield Group. WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS are contained in this blog entry. good reading if you’ve seen the movie and are commenting.

    http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/009872.html#009872

  • MaryAnn

    why am I getting constant data transfer in the background when I’m on your site, even well after the page has loaded?

    No idea.

    Soon as I saw that thing roaring, Id be like “yeah I think its time to swim acrossed the Hudson river”.

    You’ve got no friends you’d want to save, huh?

    Thats my thoughts why dont people just swim acrossed the river to New Jersey?

    You’ve never been to New York, have you?

  • Hdj

    I have been to NYC. I’ve been downtown, midtown , never been to Brooklyn or Staten Island. I know theres a path that goes under Hudson river, Maybe walking the path would be safer then trying to muscle out the current.
    I’d save my friends for sure, just not the people in “Cloverfield”. They were like the cool crowd people, my friends are more mish mash, kinda like bar friends.

  • Robert

    the Making Light blogsite has an interesting entry from James MacDonald

    Interesting. Yes, dumb to fly the chopper in proximity to the beast as if on a ride at Disney except that’s the only way they’re going to get the money shot. Hey, they were probably National Guard guys.

    why dont people just swim acrossed the river to New Jersey?

    Go down to your local pool and see how well you fare swimming that same distance – which varies greatly depending on which part of the river it is. Now instead of being in a recreational pool imagine you’re in the dark, in a filthy river with a tide. The difference in the amount of energy you’re going to expend is going to be tremendous. You’re also going to be colliding with a jillion other panicking people. A family with little kids sure isn’t going to make it and there’s less than -0- chance parties would stay together.

    How well do you know the terrain of the river bank? Assuming you even make it across, you have no idea where you’re going to end up. Do you know what you’re going to encounter when you reach the other side? Probably not a ladder, towel and lounge chair. Are you going to end up some place that’s inhospitable to an exhausted swimmer who’s also competing for escape and survival with everybody else? People who are extremely fit might have a shot at it but I was a competitive swimmer and I’d sure think twice about it.

  • MaryAnn

    Thanks, Robert, for making my point. The Hudson River is WIDE. And cold. And it’s not really a river at that point but a tidal basin. Extreme athletes swim it. Not regular folk.

    What happened on 9/11, when a lot of people had to get out of Lower Manhattan in a short period of time, is that whoever was on boats in New York harbor organized impromptu ferries out of Manhattan carrying as many people as they could. That self-organizing escape has actually been praised by emergency planners as the kind of thing you could never have actually worked as a structured thing: it was just people doing what they could for other people. You can bet that kind of thing would be happening in *Cloverfield,* too. Except it would be even worse, because obviously the monster could be in the river, too… which is how it demolished the Brooklyn Bridge.

    The best thing to do in the *Cloverfield* situation, if saving your own life was your only focus, would be to walk in the opposite direction of the monster. (Which is, again, what most people did on 9/11, and also during the massive power outage a couple of summers later.) You can be sure a lot of that was going on. But this movie was about people who didn’t do that, because they couldn’t leave friends behind (Rob couldn’t leave Beth, the others couldn’t leave Rob). Whether you agree with their decision or not, it’s not something that is outside the realm of human experience: it’s well within it, in fact. People do all sorts of strange things under extraordinary stress, and wanting to save people you care about, no matter what the odds, is not so strange at that.

  • hdj

    Perhaps I’m just a misinformed hollywood watcher. Honestly I thought I could make it till i talked to my father a relative of east harlem. He said “Swim arcossed the hudson river?! the current would take you out to the atlantic”.
    I just don’t see the math in the odds sometimes. Hence why I went into Liberal Arts.
    A part of me tells me i could survive jumping off a bridge as well, as long as i did it right, maybe the pencil drop? Who knows , I meen after all Dr.Kimble( Ford) did that huge drop off the dam and survived, maybe i could.
    Over all Robert thanks for the vivid outline of my tactic , event thought it was a failure.

  • Burt

    Even though it’d do poorly compared to the first film (after it had a rather disastrous almost 70 % 2nd week drop off in North America, obviously from negative word of mouth), it would be cool seeing a Cloverfield sequel set in either Miami, San Fran, Las Vegas or Washington DC. Setting it in a different country would keep it much fresher, like either the UK (London) or Japan (Tokyo), but that’d substantially increase the budget, so it’s unlikely to happen.

    It was mentioned in Variety that Paramount
    (who intentionally spent a minimal amount on marketing the movie) mostly expected the film would fizzle quickly and have a swift dropoff. The
    film lends itself poorly to repeat cinema or DVD viewings, so I’m unsure if DVD will be that
    lucrative for the film, other than from people renting it, after ignoring it at the cinema.

  • MaryAnn

    I disagree that the film does not lend itself to re-viewings: I’ve seen it twice now, and I found the second viewing as intense as the first.

    And I suspect part of what kept people away the second weekend was the “news” that the movie is giving some people motion sickness. Which is bizarre, to me. I suffer from motion sickness, and I was just fine. I’m not denying that a few people may have been affected, but it seems unlikely that it’s a widespread phenomenon.

  • Robert

    I suspect part of what kept people away the second weekend was the “news” that the movie is giving some people motion sickness.

    I have motion sickness issues and had to look away from the screen several times during the “soap opera” introduction. I thought they severely overdid it. If I watched it again, I’d skip that whole part which is really mainly there to set you up for the big “gotcha”.

    I did advise someone who had somehow heard NOTHING about the movie until I told her about it to watch it without reading any reviews or watching any previews. I think it would have seemed even more surreal if I had watched it under those circumstances and simply seen it unfold. That’s actually my favorite movie watching scenario but it’s hard to do with the mega promotion efforts. I’ve even been to movies where there were previews for the movie I was about to watch.

  • The movie is way more clever than actually good – typical for anything connected with Abrams.

    And those commenting on how ‘Lovecraftian’ the movie is have obviously never read any of Lovecraft’s works.

  • Nathan

    it’s not “Lovecraftian” but you can forgive someone for thinking of Lovecraft… the limited perspective of the narrator and the gradual revealing of the creature, not to mention some mysterious origin in the sea, might make someone think of Lovecraft. in the end, though, the threat isn’t presented as being truly cosmic or, as Lovecraft would write, “unhuman” enough to be of that genre.

    great flick, will see again, would recommend. can’t wait for the sequel, prequel, whatever.

  • Larry Yinger

    I am, and have been, an unabashed fan of flick filosopher reviews since the beginning. Except for petty quibbles, 99% of the reviews are just brilliant.
    But Cloverfield is in the “one percent”. Hand-held looks cheap and in a “Godzilla re-make” does not foster an illusion of reality. And motion sickness tends to spoil the fun. The “mindless destruction” metaphor set in New York is interesting , but as MaryAnn said in her Blair Witch review: “The Blair Witch Project works not because of what’s on the screen – no gore, no expensive special effects – but what isn’t. Ultimately, it’s all in service of a good story (Note to Hollywood: Story. Story! STORY!).”
    Flipped over, these are the reasons why Cloverfield just does NOT work.

  • MaryAnn

    And motion sickness tends to spoil the fun.

    I’m sure that’s true. But how does that have anything to do with my review? I mean, I understand that we may disagree on whether handheld looks cheap or not, or whether the film creates a sense of being “real.” But are you suggesting that I should have anticipated that some people would experience motion sickness watching the movie, and offered some sort of commentary on whether that adds or detracts from the quality of the film?

  • larry yinger

    MaryAnn, —– My apologies. You’re right on that point (motion sickness). It was not your responsibility unless you knew of people getting sick beforehand. You did, however, warn away people who were previously freaked by 9/11 footage. I presume you were anticipating that those people might have a different “experience” for emotional/visceral reasons. Wasn’t that an offered commentary suggesting a reason why some people would not be able to appreciate the same film “quality”?
    – Larry Yinger

  • DiscoSanchez

    I found it to be really invasively visceral and frightening, but there’s an emptiness to it that’s exemplified by the lack of real justification for the 9/11 imagery and the way every single character in the movie is uncommonly photogenic. The imagery resonates, but how could it not? It’s just pushing buttons without a subtextual purpose–just because exploitation is effective doesn’t make it more than exploitation, a cheap shock. And while the characters are at least likable enough, the way that the film was seemingly cast from a GAP catalog just tells me me how shallow JJ Abrams assumes that I am. I don’t think a movie has sucked me in quite as much as Cloverfield did in a long time, but it left me with nothing to contemplate, and it aggravates me that something this immediately traumatic has no long-term emotional residue or meaning.

  • MaryAnn

    Wasn’t that an offered commentary suggesting a reason why some people would not be able to appreciate the same film “quality”?

    Yes, it was. But as you noted, without having any idea that this movie would actually make people sick, how could I possibly have commented on such a contingency?

    It’s just pushing buttons without a subtextual purpose

    I disagree. The subtext is all of us still trying to work through the horrors of 9/11, like how Beth sobs at the end of the film about how she doesn’t understand why this is happening. There may be reasons that explain 9/11 and the monster attacking New York — geopolitical blowback, man’s dumping crap in the ocean that produces a monster, whatever — but to the ordinary person on the ground, experiencing the horror, those explanations are not what we’re looking for. We’re asking a question for which there is no answer… and the characters of *Cloverfield* get no answer. The answer doesn’t exist. Only the endlessly asked question.

  • DiscoSanchez

    I don’t really buy that. I don’t think it’s right to say that it has 9/11 subtext because 9/11 is part of the text proper. I read this interview with Abrams where basically he said that he wanted to make audiences experience the fear of 9/11 in a way that’s safe and “fun” and I think that’s a really shallow and problematic motivation for throwing around the imagery that the movie does, but I guess I can’t expect layers or metaphor–which, if Cloverfield’s a horror film, which it definitely is to me, is the real backbone of great horror–when the movie’s produced by the guy that helped write Armageddon. I don’t see how the subtext can be about us trying to work through 9/11, since the movie just is 9/11. It doesn’t take a genius to evoke the confusion and chaos of that day (though the film is rather ingenius in its means), it just lets the filmmakers off the hook from actually saying something about it beyond “GADZOOKS! HORRORS BEYOND OUR MEASLY ORDINARY COMPREHENSION!”

  • MBI

    “GADZOOKS! HORRORS BEYOND OUR MEASLY ORDINARY COMPREHENSION”

    I think that’s plenty for a film to be saying. Successful exploitation is not nearly as easy to make as you’re trying to say it is, and furthermore, I think subtext is heavily overrated. I remember some overly pedantic critics complaining that the Dawn of the Dead remake was inferior because it cut out the original’s consumerist subtext. Bullshit, that subtext didn’t need to be there at all. There’s no time for subtext in the zombie apocalypse; everyone’s too busy fighting the zombies.

    Or maybe I just don’t understand what you mean by subtext. If you want to seriously analyze what the 9/11 imagery means, it’s saying the same thing that Spielberg’s 9/11 allegory War of the Worlds (way better than Cloverfield, btw) is saying. What do these aliens/monsters/terrorists want? Where do they come from? Well, it hardly fucking matters when you’re at Ground Zero, does it? When there’s a giant dust cloud coming at you, you don’t want to know the geopolitical causes of it — you just run. I’m not sure I understand exactly what you think would justify 9/11 imagery.

  • DiscoSanchez

    What irks me about Cloverfield’s use of 9/11 imagery is that I feel like it’s just cynical filmmakers pushing a button for no real reason other than because it’s there to push. I’m not against exploitation per se, I just don’t feel like the Cloverfield team’s heart is really in it, they’ve just picked up some images floating around in the national consciousness to fit into their roller coaster ride. War of the Worlds is an interesting film to compare it to, because Cloverfield is the movie Spielberg would make if he didn’t give a shit about people. The characters in Cloverfield aren’t intolerable and actually I found myself liking some of them, but they’re still a bunch of vapid yuppies living in a soap opera, while I truly buy into the family in War of the Worlds, even if Tom Cruise is a replicant. Plus the imagery in War of the Worlds is a bit more…I guess subtle isn’t the right word, but less specific and calculated, more like it emerged from our collective nightmares. It feels earned there but here it feels cheap to me.

    And Dawn of the Dead ’78 is one of the greatest movies ever made (in my humble opinion), while Dawn ’04 is an above-average popcorn flick, and among the top reasons why the original is better is the presence of actual ideas, and beyond that, the brilliant play with tones and the empathetic and interesting characters. None of which either the remake, or Cloverfield, for that matter, really has.

  • Robert

    DiscoSanchez sez:

    The characters in Cloverfield aren’t intolerable and actually I found myself liking some of them, but they’re still a bunch of vapid yuppies living in a soap opera,

    Something that strikes me about youth in movies these days – and I can’t really put a definitive time frame on it at the moment – is that they seem more immature than many years ago. I can’t tell you how irksome I find the practice that’s in vogue of prefacing sentences with “dude”. *Dood”, like, can you be like, any more you know like, less capable of expressing you know, a coherent thought?

    Compare them to depictions of youth from earlier days. Ever seen the 60’s TV series F-Troop? I doubt you’d guess that the girl who played the Wrangler Jane character was barely 16.

    I had a hard time buying Rob as being someone who was just given a position of great responsibility.

  • MaryAnn

    I remember some overly pedantic critics complaining that the Dawn of the Dead remake was inferior because it cut out the original’s consumerist subtext.

    Yeah, and it added in a terrorism/post-9/11 waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop subtext. Which is what made it worth remaking in 2004.

    There’s no time for subtext in the zombie apocalypse; everyone’s too busy fighting the zombies.

    Well, the people fighting the zombies don’t see the subtext — subtext is a function of storytelling experienced from the audience’s perspective, not that of the characters within the story.

    Something that strikes me about youth in movies these days – and I can’t really put a definitive time frame on it at the moment – is that they seem more immature than many years ago.

    It’s not just youth in movies: it’s youth in real life. The movies are merely reflecting the fact that adolescence now extends into one’s 30s for some people.

  • Amy

    Okay, I just saw Cloverfield. I’m very much immersed in media and popular culture, but I’m always careful to avoid too much information about movies before I’ve seen them. Thus, I had no idea that this film was all handheld cam style, and that people were getting nauseous in the theaters. As a side note, I grew up sailing, and don’t get motion sickness. But…I was so ill from the herky-jerky motion and lighting that I had to leave the theater for ten minutes in the middle of the film, and couldn’t look at the screen for most of the remainder of the 80 minutes. I watched my knee, the head in front of me, my purse, my hand as I held it over my eyes, and listened to the film.

    I’m a huge fan of horror films, but was extremely disappointed by this one. I feel like the gimmick of the handheld cam was stronger than the film itself. There just wasn’t enough there to support it. Also, I appreciate that the characters were supposed to be ‘everymen,’ but you do need to care about characters in order to be invested in their fate. I vaguely cared about Hud, but that was all. And I agree with the poster above who felt that the heavy-handed use of blatant 9/11 imagery was somewhat cheap, or not come by honestly. Finally, I think it was a huge mistake to have that very clear look at the monster from Hud’s perspective. It was much more menacing when you couldn’t quite see what it was. It would have been pretty ballsy to both not explain why the monster is there and never have given a clear look at it, but this movie just wasn’t that kind of ballsy. It was the kind of ballsy of a drunk guy yelling something at a celebrity athlete that he’d never have the guts to say when sober.

  • Robert

    From Amy:

    I was so ill from the herky-jerky motion and lighting that I had to leave the theater for ten minutes in the middle of the film, and couldn’t look at the screen for most of the remainder of the 80 minutes. I watched my knee, the head in front of me, my purse, my hand as I held it over my eyes, and listened to the film.

    I imagine a lot of people were put off by physical discomfort and as such weren’t able or willing to give the overall content a fair assessment.

    I believe predictions that it’s going to adversely affect DVD sales are quite plausible. I think DVD movie releases are absurdly overpriced to begin with, I certainly have no desire to drop $15 – $20 on a movie that made me sick to look at when I paid $8 to see it.

  • MaryAnn

    I feel like the gimmick of the handheld cam was stronger than the film itself.

    I won’t disagree with your opinion of the film — you feel what you feel — but I must disagree with calling the handheld cam a “gimmick.” That *is* the film. It would be a completely run-of-the-mill monster movie without it. The verite style is what it’s all about. That’s not a gimmick.

    I certainly have no desire to drop $15 – $20 on a movie that made me sick to look at when I paid $8 to see it.

    Why would you even consider buying a DVD of film you didn’t like, no matter what the cost?

  • Amy

    I won’t disagree with your opinion of the film — you feel what you feel — but I must disagree with calling the handheld cam a “gimmick.” That *is* the film. It would be a completely run-of-the-mill monster movie without it. The verite style is what it’s all about. That’s not a gimmick.

    MaryAnn, I can’t believe my first (and second) post here has me arguing with you — I’ve loved your reviews for years! — but I must comment on the above. I think that you have nailed the precise problem of the film with your statement. It’s all about the handheld cam style — there is no film without it. (And I disagree that it was a run-of-the-mill monster movie otherwise — that would have been an improvement!) I see that as a problem. If the style supported a film that would have been a good film even without it, then I’d have to say that while it wasn’t to my taste, it still had validity as an artistic expression. As it is, I think that when you remove the distinctive style of filming (which to me screams “gimmick”), you have nothing. Certainly not a well-told story. Although as a long-time “Lost” sufferer, I don’t know why I expected anything else from JJ Abrams… :-p

  • Robert
    I certainly have no desire to drop $15 – $20 on a movie that made me sick to look at when I paid $8 to see it.

    Why would you even consider buying a DVD of film you didn’t like, no matter what the cost?

    It’s not that I didn’t like the film – I liked it overall in spite of the Queasy-Cam, but have no strong desire to see it again. If I felt a yen to see part of it again, I’d rent it for $5 or wait ’til it hits the bargain bins in a couple of years.

    In general I’m opposed to buying ANY new-release movie at the prices they’re charging. I think the only time I paid full freight is $15 for the recent release of Bladerunner. I’d never seen it and it has a ton of “behind the scenes” extras features. I consider that a special case. And I found it to be a fantastic movie. One of these days I’ll get a big screen TV where I’m sure it will be even better.

    In general I’m largely put off by the price/quality ratio of theatrical movies too – getting burned on Untraceable being a prime example of why I mostly only go to see razzle-dazzle SFX “gotta see it on the big screen” films where I’m not going to be too disgruntled if the plot sucks.

    There are too many older movies I’ve never seen that I can get *free* at the local library, or nearly free during an expedition to local thrift stores & pawn shops or WalMart’s $1 movie bin.

  • MaryAnn

    It’s all about the handheld cam style — there is no film without it.

    *How* a story is told is what distinguishes many movies. Just at the moment, we can look to *No Country for Old Men* and *There Will Be Blood* for two movies that are all about the style in which they’re told. In many ways those movies are all about style, too — those same scripts in the hands of lesser filmmakers may well not have been worth watching.

  • Pedro

    even now, days after i’ve seen the movie, i’m still not sure whether i liked it or not. one thing’s for sure – just as this movie does not lend itself to repeated viewings, it also does not lend itself to a parted viewing – like the one you get, say, on youtube. the movie sucks you in so that you really need to be in the “cloverfield state of mind”. if you are, you share in the character’s plight. but if you step out of it, even for a second – say, to switch off your cellphone – it’s gone, and you need to get yourself back in the movie. while you are “outside” the movie, you’ll hate it – the first part in particular reminded me of one of those “orgy party” porn movies, where the camera is supposedly navigating the crowd but you can see it’s professional. as long as the monster showed up, though, i was in. and i started liking it quite a bit more.

    observation: i think the monster should have been reptilian rather than insectoid. is this some reflection of our recent biological fears?

  • MaryAnn

    The monster is NOT insectoid. It is clearly an ocean creature. How does it look like an insect?

  • Pedro

    it looked kinda like a giant praying mantis to me, except for the weird suction breathing thing.

  • MaryAnn

    It looks like it’s related to crabs, to me.

  • Robert

    observation: i think the monster should have been reptilian rather than insectoid.

    I thought it looked like a big, wingless bat.

  • WriterGuy

    I thought it looked like a dog.

  • Robert

    Okay, long after the fact but I did a quick term search in here and don’t see that this has been mentioned. I just saw something on YouTube where supposedly J J Abrams stated that the monster was an alien.

    Someone else posited there might have been more than one monster though I never got that impression from the film.

  • Nathan

    yeah, it’s an alien… at the end in one of the flashbacks of their day at Coney Island(?) you can see it splash into the sea off in the distance.

    the same creature or one very like it supposedly in the new Star Trek as well.

  • JoshDM

    Till it’s confirmed, it’s not necessarily an alien. Could have been an experiment done on earth, sent up to a satellite where it mutated, then crashed back to Earth to grow into Clover.

    Then-again, who says the meteor is really the source of Clover? Could be completely unrelated. :)

  • I, for one, blame Dick Cheney. [/random]

  • Robert

    Till it’s confirmed, it’s not necessarily an alien.

    Our lab has DNA samples, it’s definitely alien.

    I, for one, blame Dick Cheney

    Nah, Cheney woulda shot it.

  • Hose A

    Of course it’s an alien, it swam the river didn’t it?

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