Cloverfield (8/10)

The hype for this movie has been almost unimaginable. Awhile ago the brilliant advertising department responsible for pushing this movie showed a simple trailer, wherein a falling statue of liberty head so rudely interrupted their party. “1-18-08” flashed across the screen, and since then that is pretty much all that the public has gotten. Not even the title was revealed until two or three months ago. But as many of us remember, hype can often kill a movie. Remember Snakes on a Plane? Neither does anyone else. The good news is that Cloverfield does not fall victim to over-hypification syndrome. For the most, it lives up to what it’s promised, ending up as actually decent entertainment, even if it’s nothing too revolutionary.

Mike Vogel plays Jason Hawkins, a kid who is going away to Japan soon, so his friends decide to throw him a surprise going away party. Some undercurrent relationship issues are threaded throughout the piece, you know, the ‘us.’ Unfortunately, a big baddie has different plans for them, and he informs them of this plan by throwing the statue of liberty’s head right into the street outside where the house is taking place like a giant green metallic turd. Well, needless to say, this is unacceptable, so our main protagonists run off to wherever they can find safety.

The plot is nothing too impressive. There’s a little too much time spent on backstory. About twenty minutes are spent with the comic relief dude (TJ Miller as Hud Platt) going around the party making a video tribute to Jason, supposedly to begin character development, to give us something to hold onto before the monsters come, but it gets tedious after a little bit and drags on an extra five minutes. All of these actors have enough charisma (especially the absurdly studdily sensitive Mike Vogel) for us to like them and want to survive. As they’re running away from whatever it is that’s chasing them (I won’t give away any plot points about what it is, part of the fun of this movie is not knowing what you’ll see going into it), we start to really care for them and not want them to die. It’s a pretty interesting film.

Obviously, the most notable thing about it (aside from the advertising campaign) is the way it is filmed, with a handheld camera the entire time. Now, I’ve heard reviews and publicity claim that this is an original technique, but have any of these people heard of a little horror flick called “The Blair Witch Project?” That film used the technique to perfection, maximizing the terror so that we feel just as scared as the people who were onscreen. I was worried that in Cloverfield the kind of camera movement used would just be a poor imitation and a way to elicit cheap scares, but it’s so much more than that. The movie is about 85 minutes long, a perfect and believable length so that we better feel the terror that everyone in the city must have felt. Aside from this, though, the film is a powerful exploration of what would happen if an enemy attacked our city; where would we go, what would we do, who would die, who would live, would we save our skins or go back for loved ones? It speaks to our terror-stricken times, dropping us straight into the lives of people to whom this is actually happening. The technique is handled beautifully, and it is not a disappointment at all – the way it is used violently thrusts the viewer into these people’s shows – not for one second do we see beyond the scope of what these people are seeing, and it gives it an incredibly real feeling. The special effects are good too. Not too much is required of them, as most of the film has incredibly shaky camera movement, but they still work very very well. There is no score, obviously, as this takes place in the real world, and the lack of musical cues helps the reality of the situation that much more.

Cloverfield is not a masterpiece, but it’s not just a fun Friday night at the movies either. It’s a lot of things. A tragic human drama, an homage to Godzilla, a cautionary tale, and so on. This is the movie that the 1999 remake of Godzilla should have been. It’s exciting, at times very chilling and frightening, and a literal roller coaster ride of a movie. The camerawork is more than a rip-off of Blair Witch, it’s a different kind of style all its own. If you dig too deep beneath its surface, you won’t find too much to mine, but that’s okay. It’s still fun. And, for the most part, it lives up to the hype.

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