MONKEY REVIEW: Cloverfield

January 20, 2008

cloverfieldBefore I write about Cloverfield in earnest, let me give you the short version of this review: Cloverfield is an exciting, genuinely frightening, top of the line monster movie, shot in a way that will be a major liability for a lot of viewers. Imagine a monster movie like Godzilla done in the style of The Blair Witch Project, and you’ll have a pretty good idea what you’re in for here. My advice for viewers prone to motion sickness is to either sit in the back of the theatre as far back from the screen as possible, take some motion sickness pills before you see it, or else just not see it at all. I’ll give you my monkey rating right away:

MONKEY RATING: TWO MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD:

I’m happy to report that the movie I’ve been eagerly waiting to see for six months or so lives up to the hype its built up since the untitled trailer (a first of its kind) appeared before Transformers last summer. It’s exciting, suspenseful and it’s got a weird, freaky monster that doesn’t disappoint once it’s fully revealed. Cloverfield is basically a Godzilla movie set in Manhattan, and yes, it does inevitably reference and acknowledge 9/11, arguably much in the same way the original Godzilla movie in the 50’s referenced and acknowledged Japanese horror and anxiety over the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That said, Cloverfield doesn’t make the mistake of trying to say Something Important about post 9/11 America, but instead it remains true to what it is, a scary monster movie, nothing more, nothing less. What it makes it less than a classic is the style it’s shot in, which is through a digital camcorder held by one of the many on the ground trying to get away from the monster. While this technique is largely effective, as it creates an often terrifying sense of immediacy, it also limits the movie in a lot of ways, mostly because the perspective you get is of people running away from the monster or cowering in fear when all you really want to do is see what’s going on. That said, the filmmakers are pretty inventive with regard to how they show action and especially how they reveal the monster, little by little. The other stylistic downside is that it simply draws too much attention to itself at times, creating nagging questions in the audience such as, “Why don’t they just drop the damn camera?” or “Where can I get a battery like that?” (The motion sickness thing I already addressed above!) When the movie’s working, though, these liabilities hardly matter. The other thing that works in the movie’s favor is that it doesn’t explain everything, sort of taking the attitude that Richard Masur does in 1982’s classic monster movie The Thing: “I don’t know what the hell’s in there, but it’s weird and pissed off, whatever it is.” That’s all you really need to know about a monster in these movies, anyway, when it comes down to it. Though clues are scattered throughout, Cloverfield audiences are given ample opportunity to fill in the blanks wherever needed. Finally, a Hollywood scary movie that respects its core audience. I can dig it.

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