Directed by: Matt Reeves
Premise: Told from the point of a view of a handheld video camera, a group of New York residents try to rescue a friend when giant spider-like monsters attack the city.
What Works: Cloverfield is an extraordinary use of cinema, combining a low budget look with hi-tech special effects, making the film a combination of Godzilla and The Blair Witch Project. The film is a step above most other monster-versus-city films, in part because of its novel approach but also because of the time spent on the characters in the opening of the picture. Character relationships are set up in a mostly credible fashion and the humor of the fictional cinematographer is well timed and allows the audience to release its tension. This is a thrill-a-minute adventure like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and the picture’s limited scope and brief running time (it totals out at about 90 minutes) aid it considerably. Cloverfield is well paced and despite the bare bones story, the narrative is complete and coherent. The film does not get bogged down in mourning scenes or extended action set pieces like many contemporary disaster films and the tight shots, filmed with a handheld camera, manage to make the New York landscape claustrophobic and chaotic. While assembling all of this action, Cloverfield does manage a few moments of genuine human emotion, something also lacking in many films of its kind.
What Doesn’t: The thrill ride is not terribly deep or revealing and the picture relies on explicit invocations of September 11th imagery. This becomes troubling in that the film does not use the imagery for much more than unease and titillation. As a result, there is an impression that the film is using it for exploitative purposes. In that case it’s no more exploitative than Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds but to tap into such a tragedy and not reveal anything significant about the event or about us puts Cloverfield’s tact in question.
Bottom Line: Cloverfield is a terrific popcorn film. Its unique approach is enough to resell a familiar storyline, even if that storyline is rather shallow.
Episode: #175 (January 25, 2008)