First off, this is not a monster flick. The monster is not a character in the film but a plot device to get the action going. Its mythology, origin and purpose are not even mentioned. In fact you don’t really see the creature that much, but I will get back to that later. This is a movie about a bunch of young adults living casually, when suddenly all hell breaks loose. It is about how in a moment of crisis, nothing really matters anymore besides surviving and helping the ones you love. Not to worry though, the movie is far from being sentimental, it’s actually pretty badass.
Cloverfield is shot as though it’s found footage from someone’s camcorder. It’s shaky, blurry, choppy and disorienting. It’s got all the amateur video quirks down; from the quick zooms, to abruptly cut sentences, to old footage popping up out of nowhere… I mean, both the director and the director of photography have done an outstanding job making the footage look like a complete amateur shot it.
The found footage format works here as a brilliant idea as opposed to an old recycled gimmick. The footage was done so convincingly that it allowed me, as a viewer, to truly consider a monster attack on New York City a possibility. In other words, the format itself made Cloverfield more believable, therefore allowing me to dismiss all things illogic and farfetched from the plot itself. Moreover, despite the found footage thing, Cloverfield still manages to be filled with iconic imagery. The director clearly knows how to create memorable images. What better than to decapitate the Statue of Liberty when depicting the destruction of New York City? Or watching a military tank get suddenly crushed like an insect by the monster’s humongous foot? Or chill inducing oversized spiders jumping at you in a dark subway tunnel in night-vision? I mean, it’s all there for the liking, looking awesome – and real! You can’t really ask for more.
And not to worry, the fact that you do not see the monster that much is great. Any good filmmaker knows that the power of suggestion is much greater than suspension of disbelief. Not emphasizing on the monster renders the whole situation more suspenseful and chaotic. In fact, when towards the end you get a good look at the monster, it is kind of a letdown as all of a sudden the limitations of CGI rip you out of the world the filmmakers worked so hard to create, and right back in the movie theatre, which is by the way the only place you should watch this film. I could not imagine watching Cloverfield in my living room and being nearly as into it as I was in that theatre.
Before I get ahead of myself though, this movie is not a masterpiece. It’s just very well executed. The photography, the sound design, the editing, the storytelling and even the acting are all impeccable. It’s too bad the writing wasn’t up to par with the rest of the film. It’s farfetched, cheesy, and the dialogue is pretty cliché, and if it weren’t for all its other redeeming factors, this movie could have easily been terrible. Ultimately, Cloverfield makes a monster destroying New York City look convincingly real, and brings you on a hell of a ride doing so. It is definitely an adrenaline rush and definitely worth seeing in a theatre. One thing I still don’t understand though, is why in the hell it’s called Cloverfield…
Review by Ralph Arida