Movie Review- Cloverfield

Hi Folks,

Since tomorrow I’ll be doing my movie review for Super 8, I felt it would be a good time to go over the film that made me want to see it in the first place. Cloverfield is a bit of a polarizing movie. A love it or hate it kind of flick. I loved it. It’s one of my favorite monster movies ever and even more than that one of my favorite movies period. It’s also the first genre movie that I went to see with Bright Dyke where we both came out, not only happy, but ecstatic about what we had just witnessed.

So whether you like it or not…here we go,

Cinematography- Shake, rattle n’ roll,

First off let me point out that I never particularly enjoyed The Blair Witch Project. I only feel the need to state this as a preemptive defense. That being said I do like the found footage/shaky cam style of filmmaking that it spawned. I think it adds a level of realism and grit to the proceedings. Only being able to half-see what’s going on around you is in itself frightening and when you know, you just KNOW that something truly terrible is happening just out of frame, it heightens the feeling of dread. The constant desire/apprehension you have for the camera man to look just an inch to his left or right can at times hit a maddening peak.

Another example of wishing the camera would look a different way.

This style of filmmaking has come under fire for everything from looking homemade(that’s kind of the point assholes) to causing motion sickness(I can think of plenty of traditionally shot movies that made me want to vomit) to relying too heavily on voyeuristic point of view shots(when you watch a movie…are you observing detachedly, events that did not happen to you?…you are…Holy Shit! Clearly you’re a pervert!) In regards to this last one all I have to say is that if film critics see a correlation between a fictional film and the webcam they subscribe to every month(I’m assuming it’s called Hot Chicks who Never Enjoy that’s their own deal.

They do movie reviews....yeah. I'm just as surprised as you are. I hope that poor writer gets hazard pay for all that contact with the commoners...

I would argue in Cloverfield’s case that the exact opposite is true. The camera POV brings you into the action more effectively than traditional cinematography would. Because of the way this film is shot you are effectively being forced to view these events in the same way the characters do. Which in this case happens to be from the big toenail of a 350 foot monster that we will hereafter refer to as Petey.


Suck it up guys, this shit happens once a month in Japan...

Michael Stahl David- Meet your hero ladies and gentleman. He plays an aspiring Yuppie named Robert Hawkins who’s on his way to the land of the Rising Sun to take a major job promotion. The events of the film interrupt his going away party and from pretty much that point on his job is to look worried but determined to save the girl he loves; who he sort of called a slut in the first 15 minutes of the movie. He also sounds a little like he has a head cold.

Odette Yustman- Damsel in distress Beth McIntyre is the super hot and surprisingly sympathetic reason for Rob’s constant worried determinedness. You may also recognize her from a later genre flick The Unborn in which she’s on camera a lot more and there isn’t as much dirt/debris/shaky cam in her face.

Jessica Lucas- Plays probably the most sympathetic character in the movie, at least for me Lily is Rob’s brother’s girlfriend and the organizer of the ill-fated going away party. I would also just like to point out that everything the guys do in this movie, Jessica Lucas does in heels, which is pretty damn badass.

Lizzy Caplan- Truly awesome as Marlena, a partygoer and somewhat reticent member of the rescue team. Funny as hell with some truly great moments, and no I’m not just saying that because she’s Janice Ian from Mean Girls.

Mike Vogel- Does a really nice job with limited screen time as Rob’s brother Jason Hawkins. Also the closest we come to a genre vet in the film his other credits including, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (r-2003), Poseidon, Deaths of Ian Stone and Across the Hall.

TJ Miller- Plays Hudson Platt who is also our camera guy and comic relief. We see very little of him throughout the film but Miller makes his presence clearly felt and adds an element of well timed comic relief and utter panic without the benefit of anything other than his voice.

Petey- LIke Cher, only 350 feet tall and motherfucking terrifying. He portrays the Cloverfield Monster; according to J.J. Abrams- an infant creature who has stumbled upon Manhattan and is reacting out of fright to the extreme response he’s received. Could only be on set for 23 seconds at a time because of child labor laws.

Like all great child actors, Petey wanted to be careful not to risk overexposure...

Synopsis- Five friends try to survive a horrific giant monster attack on New York City.

The movie starts off with a test screen and a U.S. Government label screen, we are informed that we are watching a tape found in the area formally known as “Central Park” and that it contains multiple sightings of “case designate ‘Cloverfield'”. Next we are treated to  footage from a day the main character Rob spent with his sorta, kinda girlfriend Beth a few weeks before the events of the film take place. We see them in bed together eating breakfast in a ridiculously beautiful midtown apartment just off of Columbus Circle. This rather short introduction gives us essentially a promise that some serious shit is going to go down; and it’s going to happen to these far too attractive to be real twenty-somethings.

Welcome to Horror: where bad things only happen to pretty people.

The next fifteen minutes of the movie is essentially us watching Rob’s friends put together a going away party for him. Apparently he’s going to Japan, presumably to avoid giant city smashing monsters. Basically there’s fifteen minutes of exposition to introduce the rest of the cast, establish that Rob has been kind of a dick to Beth since that awesome day they spent at Coney Island and give him just enough time to do something he’ll regret without some extreme heroism, while we all wait for something interesting to happen.

For the record: NO they never explain how a bunch of drunk people manage to get down the stairs in a hurry, let alone out run Petey.

Then (thank god) there’s a loud explosion and the building shakes. The fake news woman on the television informs them literally ten seconds after the explosion that an oil tanker is on fire in the Hudson and they being characters in a horror movie decide the best course of action is to run to the roof to see if they can see anything. Because I mean it’s not like there are pictures on the television.

This is followed by another explosion, this one we get to see, of a building downtown.

And that’s pretty much the starting gun, what we get over the next hour is footage of people fleeing for their lives through Manhattan. There are the standard New York City destruction shots, Grand Central Station, parts of Columbus Circle and most notably the Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty all get the Godzilla treatment.

Mr. Zilla was actually a technical consultant.


The reason I feel this film is so successful is that it breaks the monster movie mold. It got a lot of criticism for being a rehashing of an old idea, (no doubt from movie critics who feel that Pretty Woman is the only romantic comedy to have ever been made or that The Godfather is just another mob movie) for me that’s part of what makes it so enjoyable; you expect to see this scenario from the military or government’s point of view very rarely will Hollywood allow you to see a disaster from the perspective of a civilian on the street. This change in angle gets you up close and personal with what’s going on and makes you identify with admittedly thin characters.

You skinny bastards

Now Cloverfield accomplishes something for me that most monster movies don’t. It actually scares you in parts, there are segments of this film that are truly terrifying. If you had any doubt that walking an abandoned subway tunnel was a bad idea before seeing this film there is one notable sequence about halfway through that should ensure you never want to be in a long dark subterranean space ever again, you know for those of you that were into that kind of thing to start with.

Those little bastards are parasites living on Petey, they drop down and start wreaking havoc on a much more personal level than their host. I have to say the decision to include them was a fantastic one. The major problem with a monster movie of this scale is that the destruction doled out by a 250 foot creature can feel damn impersonal to the audience. These little guys go a long way to ensuring that those watching the carnage unfold always feel that the horror is on street level and therefore much more pressing for our main characters. Particularly for one of them who provides us with one of the more frightening death sequences in the film.

Abrams gets some bonus points for attempting to use practical creature effects for them, though they ultimately proved impractical to use.

....please don't say 'chompa'...

While it garnered a lot of criticism for how little you actually see of Petey there are some truly great shots of the elusive behemoth peppered throughout the film. There are three specific instances where you’re more or less getting a full shot of him. Now an interesting word on the creature itself is the backstory the producers gave him, they’ve essentially described Petey as an infant, recently born, hatched or whatever that has wandered into New York City and is not entirely thrilled with the violent reception he’s getting. He’s a cornered animal. Now while this doesn’t make for the most traditional of viewpoints on giant marauding whatchamacallits, (they didn’t even have the decency to make him radioactive) it does give us yet another interesting angle on what is a fairly well played out subgenre. This is all gravy however for the fact that the creature design for this film hit the mark fairly well. There is nothing really humorous or unbelievable about the way Petey looks or moves, the design of his front quarters gives him an ambling, almost spider-like movement on a grand scale that adds to the overall effectiveness of his frightening visage. (The one thing I will criticize is the decision not to include the functionality of the ‘feeding tubes’ on his underside, I mean tell me that wouldn’t have made an interesting chase segment?)

Ahem: for stupid people who still insist you never see the monster... Lasik?

All in all Cloverfield is a highly effective take on what had become a largely extinct subgenre, most monster movies of the last decade have focused on more ‘common’ threats; sharks, crocodiles, spiders, rats and snakes are already scary so if you make them bigger than normal they’re exponentially scarier right? (Answer: wrong). Cloverfield proves there is still a market for the giant rampaging beast movie if it’s done right, and J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves did it right.

Also Petey got an action figure deal... no I don't have one... what do you mean you didn't ask me?

Final Thoughts:

Ok things are about to get a little heavy here. When I said this was a love it or hate it movie I meant it and frankly a lot of people hated it. It would be an incomplete discussion of the movie if I didn’t talk about why. Cloverfield was made in 2008 it was released about 8 months shy of the 7th anniversary of 9/11, there were those in the media and some movie critics who felt the film was exploitative and in bad taste.

Now to start with; J.J. Abrams made this movie partially as a way to Americanize the Godzilla concept. Japan made dozens of movies with Barney’s sociopathic cousin in the leading role and Mr. Abrams felt it was time that Americans had their own iconic monster. Godzilla is generally accepted to be an allegory for the nuclear bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. It was supposed to be a safe, emotionally cathartic way of experiencing those national traumas, a way to relive the events from a distance. I don’t particularly find that exploitative.

Many of the film’s critics point to obviously 9/11 inspired imagery in the film as evidence of the movie showing disrespect to what happened that day. I don’t see it.  I see the imagery, it’s supposed to be there, what I don’t see is how making people who did not experience those events directly see a shadow of them in a fictional work is disrespectful. I personally feel that films like World Trade Center made in 2006, and Flight 93 also 2006, (that’s two years before Cloverfield for those of you too offended right now to do math) THESE are exploitative, THESE I DO find offensive and I still can’t sit through either of them.  I respect the desire to commemorate the heroic actions of the FDNY, NYPD and the brave people who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, but these films package it, romanticize it and use it to make money directly off of those actions.

Yes, Cloverfield  used imagery that evoked memories of 9/11 that was the point, the difference at least for me is that the indirect nature of that imagery makes it feel less like I’m getting propaganda or lecture material or that some jackass (Stone I’m looking directly the fuck at YOU) is playing on my sentimentality for a buck, and more like I’m getting a release.

Before the flamers light up I feel the need to offer some information here. I grew up in New Jersey, less than 50 miles from Manhattan. 9/11/2001 was my second day of my sophomore year in High School. My school seemed to feel this defining generational moment was on a need to know basis with the student body. I feel the need to point out that everyone knew something terrible had happened and they all knew where; we were just getting a lot of misinformation about what, and even people who did know the truth weren’t being believed.

They cut off all internet access, all cable tv access and only felt the need to share the information with students if BOTH of their parents worked in the city. I lived in a suburban town that existed primarily because it was on a train line that ran into Manhattan. Everyone I knew had at least one family member in New York that day.

My father watched the towers fall from his office window. Sometime around 1:30 pm one of my teachers leveled with us what exactly had happened.

Now I’m not claiming that I have any idea what it was like to be in Manhattan that day, and my father doesn’t like to talk about what it was like even for him a reasonable though not comfortable distance away. But I do feel reasonably comfortable making the claim that I know what it felt like to not know what was going on. I do know the fear that came with not knowing where a loved one was or if they were ok and I definitely know what it feels like to have someone tell you something that you just CAN’T believe because it fucks with everything you think you know about the world you live in.

So yeah I feel pretty comfortable stating that I would rather watch Petey level Manhattan than watch Nicolas Cage stumble through Stone’s massively exploitative, egomaniacal crap.

Anyone else with me?

Your flame retardent Screamstress,

~Fright Dyke


2 Responses to “Movie Review- Cloverfield”

  1. I have another note about the shaky cam. I get motion sickness very easily from shaky cam. I couldn’t watch Blair Witch. Fright Dyke and I had to leave Paranormal Activity 2 because I was about to go all Linda-Blair-Pea-Soup all over the theater. Even Star Trek made me a bit Green – and not in the good green-blooded Vulcan way.

    Cloverfield? Gave me no problems. None. Kudos to you, sirs. kudos to you.

    -Bright Dyke

  2. This is a gimmick that actually works well because there is so much suspense here and the overall effect of not exactly knowing what’s going to happen next works so well. Good Review!

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