Monday, January 21, 2008

Cloverfield (2008)

It’s hard not to be disappointed by super-hyped films. You’ve seen all the advertisements, all the features, all the teasers to get you pumped for a particular film, but when you finally see it, more often than not it’s a big let-down. Nowadays, most of us, myself included, only cautiously look forward to movies. If you think about it, it is kind of like going on a blind date. The friends that set you up can’t stop telling you what a great person this guy is and blah blah blah, but you aren’t convinced. It’s the same thing with me and films…no matter how cool the trailers look or all the good/bad things I hear, I still remain skeptical until I’ve seen it myself.

Well, after hearing the outburst of mixed opinions considering Cloverfield, I knew I had to check it out myself to set the record straight. And let me tell you, friends, this is one film that DOES live up to the hype! Cloverfield is every bit as effective, immediate, intense and scary as I could have hoped for!

Lily (Jessica Lucas) and Jason (Mike Vogel) are throwing a going-away party for Jason’s brother Rob (Michael Stahl-David) at their Manhattan apartment. Rob has just accepted a vice president position at a company in Japan. Lily wants the party documented, so Rob’s best friend Hud (T.J. Miller) is enlisted to film the party on a hand-held camcorder, gathering testimonials about Rob from all the party-goers. Suddenly, the party is rocked by a large earthquake and all the lights in they city flicker out…they come back on a few minutes later and a newswoman comes onto the TV to say that an oil tanker has overturned by the Statue of Liberty. Everyone heads up to the roof to see if they can see anything, and that’s when everything goes to hell as something attacks the city.

The quickly diminishing group of friends tries to flee the city, but quickly discover that a huge monster is responsible for the mass destruction. Buildings and whole blocks are leveled, skyscrapers explode and all the horrifying action is caught by Hud on the hand-held camera (when Rob asks if he is still filming, Hud even says, “Yeah, people are gonna want to know…how it all went down.”).

When they see there is no easy way out of the city, the remaining friends go back to rescue their friend Beth (Odette Yustman, who looks like she could be Jessica Alba’s sister) who is trapped in her apartment building in midtown Manhattan.

The group must try to avoid the gigantic monster, the military that is trying to evacuate people, falling debris, fire and a host of smaller monsters that came with the big guy. Does anyone survive?

Cloverfield is the perfect film to kick off 2008. From the opening credits, which state that the footage we are about to see is Property of the U.S. Military and was found in the “area formerly known as ‘Central Park,’” the film sets an ominous mood. Even the 30-minute calm-before-the-storm party footage does little to alleviate the fear that something BIG is about to happen. The party scene tries to lull the audience into a false sense of calm, but it actually increases the tension because we are just waiting for “The Big Bad” to happen. The party scene also serves as a wonderful introduction to the characters and makes us care about them. At first I thought Rob’s argument with Beth at the party seemed out of place, but it set up his motivations as to why he had to go rescue her later in the film. I really got a sense of who these people were, that they could be my friends, neighbors or even myself, and that made what happened next all the more terrifying.

In a post-9/11 world, Cloverfield is a scary reminder of just how chaotic and frantic a big disaster can be. Cloverfield is a reminder how devastating events like Hurricane Katrina, the “War on Terrorism,” the Oklahoma City bombing, L.A. Riots, 9/11 and so on, really are. The immediacy of the hand-held camera puts us at Ground Zero and shows us what it was really like to face buildings collapsing, debris falling, injured and bloody people trying to get help, military personnel shooting and bombing a huge enemy and so on. I really felt like I was there, a major part of what makes this film so successful. And to all the people that unjustly compare this to The Blair Witch Project mixed with the awful 1998 Godzilla remake are only taking a cosmetic and shallow look at the film. Comparing it to Godzilla…have they even seen that movie? And I didn’t feel like it was a Blair Witch rip-off at all, as the two films are very different in tone.

Writer Drew Goddard keeps the tone bleak from pretty much 30 minutes in, but wisely uses some jokes thrown around by the surviving friends to slightly ease the tension every once in a while. The dialogue is very natural, and it’s easy to imagine people to trying to make light of a very serious situation to survive. The script is expertly paced, and assisted by director Matt Reeves, Cloverfield keeps the scares coming and keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Speaking of scares, yes, you do see the enormous monster and it’s spider-like parasites on multiple occasions and they are all impressive. The super-fast creepy-crawlies are a sight to see, especially when they attack our intrepid camera man (and others) deep within the New York subway tunnels. The monster itself is equally frightening, due to its gigantic size and the wake of destruction it leaves in its path. And it doesn’t look a think like Godzilla, so don’t worry. There are several very close calls with the monster, each stunningly scary to behold! In other films, I might complain about the CGI, but not here. I was so wrapped up in the story that I didn’t even notice the CGI…that’s how good the film is, folks.

The scares within Cloverfield are helped along by the fantastic sound design in the film. The ominous vibrations and BOOM…BOOM…BOOM of the creature stomping through Manhattan create a sense of deep, foreboding dread throughout the film. When the action is at its most frenetic, guns are blazing, bombs are going off, buildings are crashing, people are screaming and the creature is roaring…and it’s a beautifully frightening scene every time. The cacophony of the chaos as seen through the hand-held camera places you there, and forces you to think about what it must have been like when the planes hit the Twin Towers on 9/11 or what it really must be like on the front lines of war.

And that’s probably why I liked Cloverfield so much and highly recommend you see it in theaters. Sure, if you take it at face value it’s just a giant-monster-run-amuck film (though a very well-done one at that), but if you choose to look deeper you will see that it offers a commentary on our post-9/11 world, the “YouTube Generation,” even our environment. Placing Cloverfield in that real-life context, my friends, is what elevates it from scary monster movie to a truly bone-chilling film.

This is a must-see!

Available from Amazon!

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