With a sequel already in the works as the Director Matt Reeves signs up, some audiences are just starting to see it, and on the 1st of February it was the UK's turn. I've now seen it, and I have to say I was slightly disappointed.
Cloverfield is the monster film that J.J. Abrams wanted to create for the west to rival that of Godzilla in Japan, and so the idea of Cloverfield was born. Matt Reeves directs a pretty new cast who not only acted but also filmed some of the hand held camera work, and using special effects and the shaky hand camera feel, they managed to create something spectacular on a surprisingly limited budget.
The film is shot entirely from the point of view of the characters using hand held video cameras. The idea is that Rob is leaving New York tomorrow to head off to Japan and become a Vice President of a company over there, and on his surprise leaving party his best friend Hud has been tasked with the job of videoing the entire evening and getting testimonials from the party guests.
During the party there's what appears to be an earth tremor, and everyone heads out to the roof to find out what happened. There's an explosion and debris flies across the city. Everyone races to the street below just in time to see the head of the Statue of Liberty get catapulted through the air, bouncing off a city tower and land in the street beside them.
All the time Hud keeps filming what is going on around them, and as he turns the camera in the direction of the Statue and the explosion we see a large amount of dust and something big moving between the towers, then one begins to collapse and a huge dust and rubble cloud races towards them across the streets.
Something is in the city and it's creating havoc and destruction around them and so the party-goers decide that the best course of action is to escape the island and whatever is causing the destruction.
The film begins with Department of Defense title screens and a few title screens explaining what the video is and where it was found. So we enter the film already knowing that the current time frame is well after these films were taken and we're going to witness the events first hand.
Throughout the film the character of Hud keeps filming, and this is where I struggled a little, although not as much as I did with Blair Witch and its desire to keep filming no matter what. At times I wondered if any person really would keep filming what they were seeing instead of trying to ensure their own safety.
One perfect example of this is when Hud is crossing the roof of a building, trying to ensure that he doesn't fall. The crossing is extremely dangerous, and you can see that as well as hear it from the characters themselves. What struck me is that the other characters find it so hard to traverse that they are using both hands and pulling themselves along while Hud manages to hold onto the camera, continue filming, and just walk across the roof.
There are a few moments like this where it just seems a little too forced in the first person filming style. Surely any real person would have dropped their arm and helped themselves first. This had the effect of just pushing me slightly away from the film when I had been so drawn into it throughout.
Another aspect of Hud that pushed me away from being totally absorbed by the events were his lines. At times they were just plain annoying and felt like they would only come from an idiotic character in a bad slasher film, and at other moments the script seemed really forced and false. One of the best examples that really slapped me in the face at the time was his line to Rob:
"Get out of this electrical store Rob"
Eh? That didn't sound natural at all and I really struggled with that, and other lines specifically from this character. I was delighted when his filming duties were passed to someone else.
Despite this, the film is very strong and provides for an excellent monster movie. One of the most exemplary aspects of the film is the way it will not pander to the audience and explain everything about the monster and the events of the day, it continues the focus on the characters and their experiences rather than ensuring the audience understand what is happening to the creature and the city.
The audience's knowledge grows with the characters that we are following, and we learn things about the events as they do. There's never any need to leap out to a news report or footage from any other cameras to explain events, it's all done in point of view, and if we don't get something or understand it, then tough luck, you'll catch up.
That's an aspect of filming I really enjoy. Although there's nothing too taxing to figure out, and with Hud going on and on and often repeating things so that we can hear it out loud from him as well as other characters or having witnessed it on screen, we never really do miss out on anything.
However we don't know where the monster came from or what it's doing in the city. We just experience the now.
Apart from Hud, the other characters are all very real and believable and are acted well. No one else seems to have stumbling or silly lines, and they all do a great job of conveying terror very convincingly. They develop as the drama unfolds and we get to understand a little more about the relationships throughout the film, but there's never anything too deep.
The other main character of the film is the creature itself, and it is wonderfully created. If it wasn't so fantastical you could really believe that it was real. The effects are superb and the interaction with the world around it, particularly the towering buildings, makes it all seem so real.
There was perhaps a moment or two during the smaller effects sequences that you could maybe say that the effects faltered a little, but genuinely these are hardly noticeable. The strength of the effects working so well is because the hand held approach is used and this often offers a quick, half framed glimpse of what would be a long and full frame effects shot in a conventionally filmed movie.
The creature is kept off screen for much of the film to great effect. As the film progresses and we grow more attached to the characters, so we see more of the monster until, near the end of the film, we get a few big reveals and we finally get to see the creature in all its glory, and what a monster it is.
This monster is really scary, and it doesn't look like other creatures we've seen to date. This one is imposing, has a real terrifying size and weight to it, and up close it looks completely frightening. So often we see monsters that are copies of something we can identify with, or don't carry a real world weight and size, but with Cloverfield the creature has been designed to completely scare us and make us believe that it really is that huge.
It's that feeling of immense, unstoppable power that seems lacking from many other monster films and in certain scenes you are in awe of it along with the characters. When the army attack it you can feel the blows it's taking, and when it is destroying buildings it doesn't appear to be a model view or CGI imagery, it all has real weight and scale.
A lot of the effectiveness of this is down to the sound design which really does pack a punch. The low booming sounds of movement and destruction have such a weight to them and fit so well with the visuals, and they are largely responsible for bringing that authenticity and scale to the creature and effects.
The camera style is somewhat difficult to follow during scenes of complete terror, but you have to let go of trying to race your eyes across the screen and focus on images and just go with the movement, otherwise I can well imagine that you could suffer some motion sickness. It is kept very loose and tightly focused on the character point of view at all times.
The closing scenes do provide a nice round off for the characters and the story, but there are many unanswered questions too, questions that are being asked and elaborated on all across the internet. There are more conspiracy theories for this film than there are for any of the real life events that attract conspiracy theorists galore.
This is perhaps the closest to reality of all the point of view films that I've seen, and it delivers a very powerful and effective monster film. For the very reason that the action is always kept in this first person perspective and there's never a real need to explain more than the characters see, the audience are kept in the same position as the confused and terrified characters. This brings us closer to the story and makes it more believable.
We never get the full picture of what is going on, we never have the explanations that other characters we meet do, like the Army, instead we are kept in the dark along with our characters, and that makes us feel part of the group and the film that bit more effective.
This is perhaps the most terrifying and realistic monster film we're likely to see for a long while, and it has some great moments in it. What I wish is that the lines for Hud were written a little better, there were a few encounters such as the one in the subway - there felt like there weren't that many for the scale of the problem being shown - and that we had a little more of the field hospital scenes. However this wanting is a good thing, and does leave room for a sequel.
The sound design and visual effects are very well done, and go a long way to extending that realism. I also really liked the fact that the monster is kept off screen for the most part.
However I did feel that it didn't quite live up to the Internet built hype. There were a few moments of the hand held filming that I thought were forced, and the lines from Hud helped to push me away from the film a little during some pretty key moments. For all the reality it presented, I did feel I could have been more connected to the characters and invested in their fates.