Several months ago at the very start of July a little movie named "Transformers" was released-a summer blockbuster that I downright hated-but there was a little thing attached to the front of it that began months and months of mystery and speculation. There was a short trailer-about a minute and thirty seconds long-which was shot all on a hand held video camera-twenty something year olds at a party. Suddenly there is an explosion and everyone runs to the roof to see what it is, and there is where we see our beloved New York City once again at the feet of something unknown. And then the trailer ended. It ended without many clues to what was attacking us, and it didn't even tell us a title. All it said was 1-18-08.
Now for the last few months as more and more clues began to reveal itself about what the monster could be, people began to obsess over it. People were studying the trailer as if it were a science problem. I somewhat wish that I would have involved myself in the hype a little more, because this certainly was a rather groundbreaking, inventive, and clever way to get people interested in something. When the title "Cloverfield" finally was released-a title that I still don't exactly understand with it pertaining the film, if someone could enlighten me on that- more speculation was brought up. I did not even see a trailer for this movie after the one that I saw in July, and only the rare TV commercial now and then. And now, about two days after the release, questions have been answered- many have been disappointed and others have been surprised. I was convinced that the film was very bad- a January release that had great marketing around it to get folks interested in it because Paramount knew they had a dud. But I did like the movie- it was very entertaining and even at times downright creepy. And the creepiest scenes are the ones where the monster (which is big and hulky and yells quite a bit, but it isn't exactly creepy) is not even on the screen.
The film does start like the trailer- in the middle of a party for Rob. Rob is moving to Japan for a job, and his brother Jason, Jason's girlfriend Lily, his best friend Hud (who also acts as the cameraman), and several others are all having a surprise going away party for their friend. For the first twenty minutes or so we get a few back story's and a few love stories. We know that Rob had relations with his friend Beth, but she brought another guy to the party. And we know that Hud has a little thing for Marlena (played by Lizzy Caplan, the best looking and the best actress in the entire bunch). It isn't long until things start to go haywire, and before they know it they are running around the smoky streets of Manhattan running away from a giant creature (which is hard to describe really, but it has several legs, and it has flakes of smaller insects running around and killing people as well- somewhat similar to the monsters in "The Mist.") The thread that somewhat holds a plot together- as well as keeps the group in Manhattan while the military kicks everyone out- is that Rob needs to find Beth in her midtown apartment. And they do lots of running, walking in the train tunnels, and climbing on skyscrapers to do this task.
The 9/11 allusions are not subtle and are abundant, but I do not have a problem with reflecting on that even as some others may. I was honestly surprised by how enjoyable this movie actually was. Director Matt Reeves, who only has a few television credits under his name, goes with the classic "Jaws" approach of monster movies-only showing parts of the monster for well over the halfway point before finally giving us a clear view. In fact the small images of the monster were really the most creepy, but the ultimate shot of it looking directly into the camera may ruin things just a little bit. A perfect example of lack of monster providing some truly creeping images are when they are walking through the streets-fire and smoke everywhere- but they see a team of horses pulling an empty carriage along the streets, almost oblivious to the violence and terror going on around them- I had flashbacks to the scenes of deer running around aimlessly in the great 2006 film "Children of Men." In fact the entire final ten minutes might ruin things just a little bit, but we'll get back to that.
The whole movie is done through the eyes of the camera- whatever Hud wants us to see is what we see. Reeves does make this method frustrating, but it isn't because of the annoying shaky camera work. It becomes frustrating because there are so many things that we want to see, and sometimes the camera doesn't focus on that. You almost want to pull through the screen and focus on what you want to see. Reeves doesn't make the camera motion too abundant-he seems to know that when real people actually have their hands on a camera, they don't constantly move it around in a stylish, directorial debut fashion. Real people do like to take actual home movies and adjust on things. People with motion sickness actually do not have to worry about getting ill during this, and this was a choice move by Reeves that I respect. The lack of any soundtrack, and the fact that there is no music in the credits for about two minutes, was also a choice that I like.
Another thing that is surprising was the mild quality of the actors involved. I never heard of anyone involved, and looking at their credits, I shouldn't have a reason to. I could have lived with some less minutes at the party scene, and based on things that are in the trailers it looks like there was more to it than what we saw. Although quite a bit of the acting involves them running around screaming, the acting during conversation scenes actually mildly approach realism, compared to some other "camera realism' movies like "Redacted" from earlier this year. Even next months "Diary of the Dead," which I saw at the Toronto film festival, goes a little overboard at times, but the acting flaws in "Cloverfield" are rather mild if you match them with the small criteria that they need.
At a lean 84 minutes (with about ten of those being credits), "Cloverfield" is quick and entertaining, but the last ten minutes become somewhat of a drag. First of all there are quite a few endings here-moments where you are certain that the movie would be done but then it continues. It almost becomes ridiculous. Reeves tries to stretch the camera method to the point where it almost becomes a gimmick, and there are moments where I just couldn't imagine a camera surviving all of that impact- a crash, rocks falling on it, and even it going into the mouth of the monster. There is never even a mention of the camera needing a new battery, but it recorded all throughout the party, all night, and into the morning- just about thirteen hours. Even the aforementioned "Diary of the Dead" contained a scene where the characters stopped in a safe location to recharge their camera. I also still don't know how I feel about the inter cuts throughout- there is a tape already in the camera that is being recorded over, and every now and then we get a brief second of what that is. It seemed too much of a way to ignite some more drama in the storyline that simply wasn't needed.
On the whole, "Cloverfield" is enjoyable. It is entertaining and even slightly creepy at times. I just hope they do not try to buff on the success by making a sequel, although a certain sound bite that plays at the very end of the credits might say otherwise. But we'll see. This is a good film, and the rare January blockbuster.