Cloverfield (2008) Review

Cloverfield (2008)
Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Michael Stahl-David, Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Odette Annable.
Plot: After a huge monster attacks New York City, amateur footage documenting a rescue attempt in the midst of the attack is discovered.

The release of 10 Cloverfield Lane is just under a month away and, with producer J.J. Abrams (the same man who produced Cloverfield) behind the wheel, as lot of fans of the original 2008 monster film are taking that, along with the ambiguity of its plot, as a sign that Cloverfield is getting some sort of sequel. JJ Abrams clearly stated that 10 Cloverfield Lane is not a sequel, nor a prequel of Cloverfield, but he has confirmed that it takes place in the same universe. So, what better time to look back and remind ourselves of Cloverfield?

Cloverfield presents the story of a small group of friends who have planned a surprise leaving party for their friend Rob (Stahl-David), who is leaving America for a job opportunity in Japan. One of Rob’s closest friends Hud (Miller) is given the task of going around the party with a video camera to document the night and capture testimonials from Rob’s friends. Not long into the party, Rob confronts his old love interest Bath (Annable), who turns up to the party with a new partner, which results in a heated argument and Rob leaving his own party. Shortly after, the party stops due to the sound of what is initially believed to be an earthquake, but is soon revealed to be an explosion in the City. The partygoers flee to the streets to find that New York has been attacked by… something… and the United States military is leading an evacuation. After getting in touch with Beth who is trapped in her apartment, Rob leads his friends on a daring rescue in the face of ongoing destruction in the city.

Since the 1950s, monster movies have been led by the success of Gojira (1954) which holds the title of ‘king of the monsters’, rivaled only by America’s King Kong which actually came first. When we think of monster movies, we typically think of a guy in a suit, something fighting the military, and that same something destroying model buildings. But, in recent years, the convenience and practicality of CGI has overtaken the more traditional method. Cloverfield was one of United States’ attempts to revive the monster movie genre, along with Peter Jackson’s King Kong in 2005, following the disastrous remake/recreation of Godzilla in 1998. In both cases, the films effectively utilised the use of CGI. While I’m not a fan of CGI, I believe it can be effective when used correctly and Cloverfield is one such an example. I didn’t think the  monster looked amazing, but it was concealed throughout the movie and there were only one or two clear shots of the monster in full. Similarly to Jaws (1979) the monster doesn’t appear right away, which creates fear and suspense so that when it does appear, it’s never fully shown and appears in short bursts. This also helps to disguise the use of CGI which would struggle to portray an authentic looking monster if it were to be overexposed.

Knowing the monster couldn’t be the only feature of the film, the rest of the footage features a suicidal rescue mission of a girl who has had 5 minutes of screen time and hasn’t succeeded in being remotely likeable. Beth, who was last seen bringing her new boyfriend to her ex-boyfriend’s leaving party, is stuck, and she needs Rob to rescue her. It’s not that I have zero compassion, or wouldn’t do the same, but it simply becomes more and more difficult to believe with every passing minute. The sub-plot is what lets the movie down; the idea risking your life rushing around a city that is overrun with the military and being attacked by a giant monster along with its terrifying, giant fleas for the sake of a love interest is just a bit old and corny. Throughout the film, the group encounter a number of life-threatening situations that leave you wondering how they survived, along with the ever pressing question of; how can the camera still be running after all this time?

While the film may lack in being realistic [it is about a giant monster attacking New York after all], it doesn’t fail in being entertaining, which is the number one criteria for any monster film. The monster looks great, the explosions and locations all look and feel authentic. The acting is relatively good throughout the film, perhaps even too good in certain parts like the opening party scene which almost feels as if they were shooting an actual party. One of the main complaints about the film however, along with most found footage films, is in the use of the handheld camera. The use of a handheld camera often produces a ‘shaky’ motion, which can replicate the symptoms of motion sickness such as nausea and dizziness for some viewers, effectively ruining the movie.

In conclusion, Cloverfield has been a delightful revival of the monster movie genre and has shown that CGI can make monsters look authentic. There was an overall authentic feel to the film that was let down only by a badly written sub-plot. I do, myself, miss the effects of stop-motion (yes, even a guy in a rubber-suit) which can look just as effective as CGI, especially with modern technology. With all of this in mind; can we expect any monsters to feature in 10 Cloverfield Lane? Whether they do or do not remains to be seen, but it still looks like it’s going to be an interesting one to see.

Score: 16/24

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