Movie Review: Cloverfield

Leave a comment

Having missed this film in theaters I was forced to do the “rental” thing. I’m glad I didn’t see it in theaters. Seriously. The problem with Cloverfield isn’t that it is a bad idea, nor that it’s a cliche idea, since the whole monster attacking a major city thing has been done dozens of times before, it’s that the marketing for this made me so fascinated by the prospect of a truly illusive and downright original take on giant monster movies only to let me down when the actual film played before my eyes. I tried really hard to enjoy it as much as possible, and there are good parts within the film, but unfortunately the faults of the film simply outweigh the things that were done right. More to be said in the breakdown.

Direction 1/5
What direction? I’m not kidding. That’s a very serious question. Whatever direction was given must not have been very thorough, nor very useful. Throughout most of the movie we’re subjected to Hub, or Hud, or whatever the hell that guy’s name is. Initially he wanders around being a complete moron while trying to get people to do quick “video goodbye’s” for the main character (who is apparently leaving for Japan), then attempts to get some girl to like him at the party (which he doesn’t stop doing there by the way). That last bit comes into play later for reasons that are just plain idiotic. When the sh*t hits the fan, Mr. Hubby Hud takes the camera with him and for the rest of the movie (until he dies) we get to hear his lovely idiotic commentary as the city descends into chaos. Now, on principle I have nothing wrong with having the “idiot character” or the “comic relief”, except where it’s completely unnecessary. The delivery is simply juvenile, with the character acting almost as if he has a mental deficiency when he should be acting, oh, I don’t know, scared out of his damn mind? Real people, which this movie is trying to give us, don’t act like buffoons 24/7. I really doubt anyone during 9/11 was running around and asking idiotic questions about unrelated nonsense.
Having sufficiently ranted I can say that there really isn’t any direction here. The reactions are all over the place and the camera panning is impossible to follow. More on that last bit later.

Cast 2/5
The cast of this movie is nothing special. The only person who really inspires any sort of emotional response from me is Michael Stahl-David (who plays the main character Rob Hawkins). The rest of the cast doesn’t really do much for the film. Most of the characters spend their time crying and screaming incomprehensibly, or running around acting like a moronic buffoon who can’t even convince me for one second that he actually gives a rat’s butt about the fact that Rob’s brother gets killed by the monster. Basically, loads of disappointments.

Adaptation N/A
This wasn’t adapted from anything that I am aware of.

Writing 1/5
Let’s see: take a cliched idea, attempt to make it new, but then revert to another cliched idea, throw in more cliches, and then never explain anything, thus leaving the audience wondering “what just happened?” Oh, and the movie ends on a cliffhanger, which means you really don’t know what happened. Essentially there is no resolution to the film. Spoilers ahead, by the way.
So, basically here is the story:
Rob’s friends and family throw him a going-away-party one evening in his New York apartment when a big mean monster comes into town and starts screwing things up. Somewhere in the middle of the party the movie establishes a relationship-gone-bad between two childhood friends (you know, the whole “we’ve been friends forever, let’s do it” thing). Well, Mr. Rob, or Mr. Hero, decides “oh I have to save her cause I love her” and goes across town against all better judgment, subsequently getting most, if not all, of his friends killed in the process only to die in the end of the movie along with Beth (the friend with benefits).
Okay, now setting aside the numerous cliches already going on we can talk about the other problems: namely the lack of answers. Where the monster comes from is never answered, in fact, we’re not given much beyond random speculation. On top of that we’re never really clear what the whole infection thing is about, but people supposedly are turning into bizarre monsters (or so the shadows seem to show us). And in the end we don’t even know if the monster is killed. The tunnel the remaining characters are hiding in is bombed and that’s the end of the movie. So in the end we know less than we did when the movie started. It’s all a glorious mess that will apparently have a sequel to give us the answers.

Visuals 1/5
The greatest issue with the visuals is that everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, is done via a hand cam, which means nothing but shaking and bobbing around for an hour and a half. This didn’t work well for Blair Witch and it certainly didn’t work well here. The biggest problem with a shaky camera is that whenever we are given the chance to get a really good look at the monster (up until the end at least) the camera shakes around so the view is impossible to focus on. I can handle this a few times. I understand why they wanted this in the film, but there just comes a point in the first 45 minutes where you really want a good look at the monster so you can really understand what exactly is so terrifying. But even in the end the view of the monster isn’t very good: it’s a long distance shot, which shows the monster in its entirety, but doesn’t give us the impression we really need. The only reason the visuals get a point here is that at least when there are views of the monster they are done well enough to look realistic. Overall, however, the visuals were just a disappointment. Most of the time is spent with a group of New Yorkers as they run around in subways, scream, yell, run around, and generally make you nauseous as you attempt to focus on the visuals only to have your eyes jerked around. I imagine if you let this play for your cats they would be tremendously entertained.

Overall 1.5/5
The movie is a mess. It takes all the things that were interesting and throws them out the door in exchange for crappy characterization, poor writing, and an hour and a half of annoying camera movement. The viral marketing of this movie had me stoked, but in the end it’s just another of those films where the commercials are more intriguing than the film itself (like The Musketeer). Yeah, I think I’ve said my piece.

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

Leave a Reply