Monday, March 10, 2008
Movie Review: Cloverfield - 8/10
I really liked this film. Not in the way I like Lord of the Rings, where I'll watch it once a year until I got to my grave, or how I like Gangs of New York because I admire the quality, or even how I like other monster movies like last year's The Host or classic Toho Godzilla movies. I like it because it succeeds in doing something no film has done since the original black and white Godzilla was released. It conveys the horror a monster of massive size would produce.
Godzilla worked as a piece of horror in Japan, not because Japanese audiences were expecting a colossal lizard to stride up out of the Pacific Ocean, but because the mayhem the monster produced was strikingly familiar. The path of destruction left by Godzilla in that first, starkly monochromatic film (in a franchise that became ridiculous to the point of self-parody) bears a strong resemblance to footage from Hiroshima after the Bomb fell.
Cloverfield achieves a similar sense of horror both out of a similar memory of destruction; New York has always been a favorite American city for filmmakers to lay waste to. The American version of Godzilla took place there, which begs the question, why does one film succeed where the other failed? Cloverfield evokes its sense of memory, not simply from locating its monster in New York, but also through the mise-en-scene of YouTube. The lack of manipulative music and slick special effects lends the film a sense of verisimilitude. If Cloverfield had been filmed with multiple cameras, greenscreen effects and a bombastic soundtrack, it would have been reduced to the same campy dreck as the American Godzilla. Despite whatever nauseating effects such a decision has on audiences, it was the right one to deliver this sort of story.
As I've openly stated before, I like movies about giant monsters. Hell, I even want to see D-Wars. But Cloverfield is something special in a genre known mainly for its special effects and creature design. The film is ultimately like a good disaster movie, in that it focuses on a small group of people trying to survive the earthquake, the sinking ship, the burning building, or in this case, the giant monster. In truth, you never get a decent look at the monster. What you get are a lot of scenes listening to the characters talk, while the sounds of battle and destruction boom ominously in the background. And while it won't keep me up tonight for fear a giant monster is going to lay waste to my city, or any one on the planet for that matter, it makes for some very tense viewing nonetheless. And to boot, it's a hell of a metaphor for the chaos life hands us and the ways in which we are wont to react to it.