As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Cloverfield

Posted by Hedwig on February 8, 2008

I can’t resist a good viral campaign any more than the next girl. And surprisingly… Cloverfield kind of lives up to the hype. It’s not really scary, aside from a couple of moments, but I don’t thing it intends to be. It is a gripping experiment, which managed to do something new in this season of derivativeness.

And best of all? It’s all of 85 minutes long. Thank you, thank you JJ, for realizing that sometimes less is more. and that not every single movie needs to be over two hours long. On the other hand, curse Pathé cinemas for inserting a break even in such a short movie: especially with a movie like Cloverfield, staying in the experience is crucial

With a monster movie, the crucial question is of course: how’s the monster? Well it’s…ok. I don’t usually side with Jeff Wells on much, but he’s right that it would probably have been better off left in shadows, a shapeless menace only glanced from afar. As it is, in the one close-up, I was studying its features, contemplating it rather than intimidated by it. As it was, the smaller critters it sheds, while definitely not impossible to defeat, were much scarier.

The unknown is always more unsettling, and one of the things I liked most about the movie is that it doesn’t explain anything, not where the monster is from, not what motivates it, not what happened after the recorded events. Hopefully, this doesn’t mean we’ll get a sequel with all the answers.

It seems a lot of people’s appreciation of the movie hinges on whether you like hanging out with the protagonists, or find them insufferably hip and young and rich. It’s true, the six main characters don’t get much of a personality, the Rob/Beth love story stays abstract, and you definitely don’t really get to care for them. But their anonymity works to make their story a more-or-less universal one. And the overlong party sequence that opens the film is very effective in that it almost manages to make you forget this is a monster movie. You get lulled by the normalcy, even tediousness, and then, BAM.

I certainly hope this kind of shaky, hand-held “realism” doesn’t become too common. But for this particular story, for this particular film, it works.

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10 Responses to “Cloverfield”

  1. Kaj said

    I think Rembrandt is the only Pathé movie theatre that still has breaks…

    Can’t say I cared much for Cloverfield, and I was certainly glad that I stopped believing the hype late last year. After seeing REC and Diary of the Dead at the IFFR, which both also used the handheld cinematography by characters in the films, Cloverfield seemed tame and badly shot. In REC and Diary the characters with the camera’s know where to actually point the damn thing (which fits with their respective characters), and especially in REC this results in some impressive long takes that are still realistic. And as opposed to those two films, but like with The Blair Witch Project, my stomach didn’t like it much when people just ran with the camera aimed at the ground for a period of time.

    So in that sense, I don’t see what makes this a gripping experiment. As far as creature features go, there’s nothing new here, and the whole eyewitness recording thing is not only not exactly new, but has also recently been done much better.

    I did enjoy the movie somewhat though, as a superficial thriller/horror it has some good tense sequences (in the subway tunnels, on the roof of the collapsed building), but in the end, to me, it’s a just above mediocre thrill ride that could’ve just a tad more thrills.

  2. sarcastig said

    I actually thought the fact that “Hud” didn’t always know where to point the camera was conscious, and one of the things that make this film better than just a superficial thriller. As a viewer, it makes you very aware of the restrictions: it’s frustrating because you often want to see what’s just outside the frame or behind him, and it’s that frustration that makes this worth watching. I understand that in the two movies you mention the facts are filmed by professional camera crews who just happen to be on the scene, but I’d argue it adds something to have someone rather ‘incompetent’ holding the camera. After all, it fits with the concept: there aren’t always professional crews around when something happens, but nowadays, there will always be someone with a camera, even if it’s just on their phone.

    I don’t care for Cloverfield enough to defend it very vigorously, and I haven’t seen REC or Diary of the Dead so I can’t really compare, but I think you’re dismissing it a bit too easily. I think many of the things you mention as flaws (like that it could’ve used more thrills) are in fact very intentional on the part of the makers.

  3. Kaj said

    Oh, sure it’s intentional, but that doesn’t make for more pleasurable viewing. Anf if the lack of tension is intentional (which stems in part from the complete lack of involvement with any of the flat, boring characters), I’m not sure why. Diary doesn’t have a professional crew, by the way, just film students. That do, from time to time, use mobile phones to film the action. The main character becomes obsessed with recording everything because the professional media do not and the authorities try to play the zombie plague down until it’s too late.

    The frustration over not getting the whole image actually creates tension because I actually cared a lot about what was going on. With Cloverfield, I cared some, but not enough to stop my mind from wandering and contemplating, and that’s not good for a movie like this. Because in the end, it is a simple thrillride, and that’s what a lot of people seem to be loving it for. But to me, after the aforementioned movies, this was a bit lame and really tame. I expected a lot more effectiveness from this. If a filmmaker is gonna make me this queasy and turn my stomach, I expect a little more than a tame disaster movie that doesn’t live up to the hype and has quite the lame ending, which is possibly why I feel like I dislike the movie so much, because there were some good parts in the middle.

  4. I feel like a big grouch about Cloverfield. I like it “OK”, but less so the farther I get from it.

    Yes, it was 85 minutes long, but I swear it felt like it was over 2 hours. My state of mind while seeing it didn’t help. I wasn’t in the mood for a movie at all.

    Also, I kind of want a classic monster movie, but a good one. That will never happen, I know.

  5. Kaj said

    What did you think of The Host?

  6. I’m not sure if you were asking me Kaj, but I liked The Host quite a bit.

  7. sarcastig said

    I have, in fact, not seen “the Host”. But I have a sneaking suspicion it’s the kind of movie my friend Evan would have on DVD.

  8. Kaj said

    Your nephew has it, I know that much.

  9. The Host, for me, was a surprisingly un-typical monster movie. In some ways, the monster was almost a sideline to the story of this weird, disintegrating family.

  10. sarcastig said

    I assume you mean my cousin 😉 You’re right, and I’ve been looking for an excuse to hang out with him again sometime.

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