This is certainly a challenging movie to review for several reasons. First of all, it’s going to contain spoilers though I don’t think they should be considered “spoilers”. They’re more like logical steps in the story, but people may not be aware of a logical step in a story and be put off by me simply mentioning said events, so for the record: spoilers will be made. Secondly, it has an extreme amount of hype that comes with it, and a lot of times that causes some very decided, and passionate opinions about trivial things. It’s hard to look at these kinds of movies without falling into the nonsense, but I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job of doing this. I will say that I went into it thinking it was going to be horrible. From start to finish, the idea seemed very ridiculous. A monster attacking a city, the shaky handheld camera, the notion that it came from space, it all just seemed like ideas that were either purposely avoided, or overused, all rolled up into one big movie, and plastered to hype-posters with “mystery glue”. I have to say that despite my very low expectations, I was surprised at how good a movie could be with so many flaws.
The movie opens black with some text letting us know the tape was found in central park, so it’s assumed from the beginning that everybody dies, but it also kind of implies that maybe it’s all over and done with, but I’ll touch on that later. The opening is a party for a friend who is going off to Japan as a the vice president of some corporation of something we’re never told. My first thought was about how predictable Japan was for the distant place, as this is a movie featuring a monster attacking a city. It’s already undeniable that the most popular movies in the monster genre are Godzilla and King Kong, but going off to New York wouldn’t have made much sense. But it’s forgivable, because if people are going to poke fun at your movie by calling it Godzilla, you might as well beat them to the joke. That’s all beside the point, because the real issue with the entire introduction to the movie is that it felt fake. The entire idea behind the movie is to suspend your belief long enough to enjoy it, and while that’s totally impossible, you can at least be convinced of some things by means of great acting. This is where the entire introduction is lacking, as it’s obviously lesser known, less talented actors attempting to talk freely, act naturally, and not seem like they’re following a script. Fact is, they do, and I think it wouldn’t have been too risky to just have them improvise all the dialogue, except for some elements that would have progressed them into areas of the city, pushing the story. I could be wrong, but I don’t think it would have hurt the film anymore than totally unnatural sounding, written dialogue.
After the party goes on for a while, some of the guys are just sitting around, there is a huge noise, and most of the city loses power. It just happens, and for this, I give the film credit. There is no real build up like what you might expect, they’re just sitting around when it happens. They go to the roof to get a better view, and that’s when the movie really gets interesting. An explosion, massive debris falling on the building, lots of power shortages, lots of screaming and running, when they’re outside there is just nothing but chaos, and you’re never really sure what to think, what will happen, what’s going on. It’s just madness, and I have to give credit again for great special effects, because the movie really does a good job for what it has. The city really does look destroyed, and it never really has that “cartoon” look a lot of modern special effects have, and suffer from. Be it a destroyed bridge, collapsing building, whatever, it’s always convincing. My personal favorite part of the movie is a scene where they’re walking down the street and suddenly the monster makes an appearance, and a hail of missiles, gunfire, noise, tanks, army troops, and everything else. All the while the unfortunate friends are stuck ducking under cars and screaming, and it’s just so intense you can’t help but get very excited. What else is unfortunate, is that from here on out there are a series of scenes that feel extremely fake, only because they’re being filmed. I can only speak for myself, and I think I can vouch for the majority of my friends, but I don’t think I’d film people having to tell their mother that they their son is dead. But the movie is full of scenes like this, and it makes perfect sense in a conventional film, because there “is no camera”, we’re watching from a point of view. But in Cloverfield, there is a camera, and a very tasteless cameraman who doesn’t think it’s ever a good idea to turn it off, no matter what. Some scenes just don’t have that feeling like the rest, and it hurts the movie.
The cameraman himself was one of my biggest complaints. While I understand that in any terrible situation, you always have to have a sense of humor, but with a movie like this, and a situation like that, I simply don’t believe anybody would have the mental capacity to be cracking wise as often as this guy does. He must have guts and balls of absolute steel, and nerves to match, because just moments after escaping death, time and time again, he’s right on top of the joke department, and he’s always able to bring down the audience (me, in this case) from a place of suspended belief. This is just one of a few clichés that the movie has, and is ultimately why I wouldn’t rate it higher. It’s a movie that’s attempting to take most conventional aspects of filmmaking and throw them away, yet it’s filled with plenty of movie clichés that you would expect in any other movie, but get in this one too. I know a lot of people thought Hud, the cameraman, was a great aspect to the film, and was very funny, but I didn’t feel it. I’ve been in situations where I’ve been terrified, and somebody making a bunch of wisecracks and constantly doing their best to convince me they can’t take something serious isn’t my idea of comic relief. It’s just annoying. Granted, I’ve never been in a situation as bad as what these kids were in, and it might be that kind of bizarre defense mechanism, but it doesn’t come off that way. Instead, after seeing this movie, you might expect Hug to make a joke at a funeral, or be “that guy” to say “awkward” during an awkward moment. But that’s all set aside, because like everyone else, he dies, and if you hated him like I did, you can enjoy his death.
Now, this is where there is another problem that could have been easily corrected. The movie does a great job of hiding the monster, and I really liked that. You see pieces of it here and there, but it’s never really holding still, and it’s never clear, and it’s well done. Except for one scene where the monster literally just shows up randomly without any warning, and just sits in front of the everybody so it can be filmed nice and clear, and it even snarls into the camera. It’s obvious that it was done just to satisfy people that wanted to see it, and couldn’t handle the concept of something evil that’s never seen, and it seems really out of place. The entire movie does such a good job of making the camera seem plausible, meaning it never seems too convenient that everybody is there when it’s being filmed, except for this one moment. Up until now, the monster has been loud, fast, and followed by missiles and gun fire, but for this one moment that goes on for a long time, it’s just there. No warning or anything. The size also seems a little off. Before this shot, the monster seems huge, with a head maybe two floors tall, but here, it seems to be much, much smaller. Other than this shot, the monster is very well hidden, and the concept of hiding the threat for suspense works great. This one shot almost ruins it. And like all the other flaws, it’s forgivable because the action is great and it looks good.
Now, on to the last issue I had with the movie. I’ve mentioned clichés, and that the dialogue was poor, and none of them would have been there if it weren’t for this huge annoyance. Cloverfield is a love story, the monster is just the accelerator. The etire crew of kids are moving into the city, where the monster is, just so one of them can save a girl he loves. Of course, this is never advertised, or implied. But it’s there and it’s really the point. It feels like it might has been written by Bay, the same way his movies are loved wrapped around action. The end of the movie is something I won’t go into detail about, but it is cliché, and it does involve the lovebirds. It’s a disappointing ending, but satisfying all at the same time. I’m glad everybody died, and I’m glad the monster is never explained, and I’m glad that it ends with us losing. But I hate the characters, and how cliché their actions are, and how sappy it is. In a movie that wants me to play along, they do a poor job of creative realistic, believable people. But, all the negative aspects aside, it’s a cool movie, and totally worth seeing at least once. Just don’t believe the hype, don’t fall for the idea that it’s totally original, and unlike anything else, and simply a masterpiece. It’s not deep, it’s not a masterpiece, but it is cool. Overall, it seems that people either love it, or hate it. What you have to do is understand that it’s a well balanced attempt, and perhaps the first step in a new method of making monster and horror movies. The best thing it does is pave the way for future attempts at creative filmmaking, and that alone is more than I can say about a lot of other films.