Monster! There’s a fricking great monster! And oh look. It’s in New York. The current hotspot for all monsters, disasters and sassy rom-coms. Location included, Cloverfield delivers every monster invasion cliché you could imagine, from the screaming army commanders in their billowing plastic tents, to unnecessary missions to rescue damsels in distress, to ludicrous romance in the face of chaos, to slowly building visuals of the scary foe until the final reveal that’s always a little disappointing. Cloverfield’s setting is just another crappo monster film. But it’s done something a bit clever. It’s taken your basic crappo monster film, honed in on one of the running, screaming extras you always see in the background, and given them a camera.
Ah the genius of a simple idea. Suddenly the world of crappo monster films is turned upside down, approached from a fresh angle with staggering effect. The army are still doing their shouty thing, but we’re running past them, wincing at the super loud rockets they’re firing, hoping they know what the hell they’re doing and ducking behind cars to avoid getting caught in the cross-fire or squished by a massive foot. It’s chaotic, dazzling and down-right frightening, sucking away all the roll-your-eyes, here it comes blandness of a typical monster-yawn and replacing it with in-your-face excitement.
Even the cast of characters are rent-a-victim cut-outs, with the heroic lead, his beautiful romantic interest, the nerdy one who makes witty asides, the sardonic girl, and the token minority. But as they carry their camcorder about, either running for their lives or cowering in a corner, they lose the chance to have powerful speeches over the national anthem, or do something heroic in slow motion to the power chords of Aerosmith. They’re just people running about. And you’re right there with them, the audience watching everything through the camera lens. You run when they run. You roll across the ground when they drop the camera. It’s shake-tastic camera work, not surprising considering JJ Abrams is in the producing chair (his philosophy on Lost: if the scene is supposed to be dramatic, then shake that camera goddamnit! Shake it so the audience knows! You can picture the cameraman saying “but surely the music and the plot will make it dramatic?” and Abrams whacks the camera out of his hands in annoyance and berates him with “no, you fool! They won’t know it’s dramatic unless you shake that camera like it’s a can of whipped cream. Now shake it! SHAKE IT!!”)
Sorry, off on a tangent there. Where was I? Ah - shaky-cam. Yes, droves of people have been complaining of motion sickness, and though it can be difficult to watch at times, I’d say you could only get motion sickness if you felt queasy with simple things like rollercoasters, banana flavoured beer, or just generally moving around.
Anyway, Cloverfield is a smart piece of film in terms of concept, and will have your heart beating and your fingers twitching to cover your eyes, especially when some fool suggests turning on the camera’s night vision. It’s good fun, though doesn’t justify the enormous internet hype and “mystery” built up around it over the last six months or so. And though the look and feel is pleasingly fresh, it is ultimately stuck in the confines of the monster-movie clichés. The lean running time is an indicator that though the idea is great, you can’t do a whole lot with it. So, an exciting B-movie done in an entirely new angle, Cloverfield racks up a CF2. And remember: if a giant monster attacks your city, make sure you keep your camera on at all times. At least that way we might get to see a disaster film that isn’t set in New York.