It is very easy to sum up Cloverfield in one word: original. I have heard comparisons to The Blair Witch Project and rightly so since both movies, for the most part, are captured through the lens of a hand-held camera and they both have ambiguous ending (The Blair Witch Project’s is better though). Since I have not seen the entirety of The Blair Witch Project, the other similarities are lost on me.
Cloverfield is A-quality monster movie smartly marketed as a survival movie set in New York City during a going away party. Trailers and commercials for the film showed a mysterious attack on New York City while the perpetrator is kept in the shadows and off screen. During the first act, you are shown the results of the attack but never the attacker fully. This technique built anticipation for when you finally do see it, much like the first time you see the Great White in Jaws.
What Cloverfield does, with almost the same effectiveness as was done in 2006’s The Host, is introduce a human element for the audience to care about and root for. Whether that is relationships in various stages of affection, unrequited feelings, friendship or casual acquaintances, most will be able to empathize with at least one character in some way, shape or form in Cloverfield. There is Robert Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David), the film’s central character who is off to Japan soon and the subject of a surprise going away party, Jason Hawkins (Mike Vogel) Robert’s brother, Lily Ford (Jessica Lucas), Jason girlfriend and the organizer of the surprise party, Beth Mclntyre, Robert’s love interest, Hud Platt, Robert’s best friend and the person that gets suckered into video tapping farewells for Robert at his going away party and Marlena Diamond (Lizzy Caplan), Lily’s friend and Hud’s would-be love interest. After we meet the cast and the point-of-view is established in the film, the “monster” aspect of Cloverfield kicks firmly into gear. This is another aspect of Cloverfield reminiscent of The Host as is what follows in the film. An impromptu action/adventure story that delivers its established characters (more so in The Host) into the center of the mayhem and destruction brought about by a monster and the official response to it. That response is evacuation and military action.
What makes Cloverfield really stand out is the point-of-view this film is shot in, the way the camera is placed throughout the film and how the film was edited. As I mentioned earlier, the film is shot from the point-of-view of a hand-handle camera held by Hud. What could be seen as haphazard or caught by accident through Hud’s camera lens (its actually Robert’s camera) was carefully orchestrated and most-likely extensively storyboarded before hand. The camera was ingeniously placed to show you what you need to see, jostling and turning, keeping the tension high and the integrating of being hand-handle alive. The camera and the associated editing also make sure that the film remains true to its PG-13 pedigree, cleverly hiding R-rated material off screen and behind on-screen objects. The hand-held camera aspect also allows special effects that might not seem so special if the film was shot in a conventional method, to be presented in a medium that makes them look top-notch.
Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield is a film that generated a ton of viral marketing, early buzz and conversation after the film ended. I read a review for Cloverfield, I think it was on Aintitcool, that basically destroyed this film from a cast that looked like they were ripped out of the pages of a Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue (true, upon reflection) to a monster that resembles a part of the female’s anatomy (guess which part?) I do not agree with the latter part of the critique but I will say, as J.J. Abrams has in interviews, that Cloverfield is not for everyone. This film will turn some people off, especially with the 9/11 influences clearly recognizable during the initial attacks, explosions and the resultant dust covered people. I was not one of them but then again I am not a New Yorker. I really hope you waited for the end of the credits because there is a little snippet there that hints at something in the future, something already being discussed across the Internet.