I have been looking forward to watching Cloverfield for a while now and it did not disappoint. It's rare that a movie not only lives up to my expectations, but blows them out of the water.
Let’s get one thing straight first – this may be packaged as a simple monster movie, but it is so much more. Told through the video camera belonging to a group of friends, this movie succeeds in a small, but crucial aspect at which most horror movies fail miserably: It makes us care about the characters. Sure, some of them are one note, trite and generic looking, but that describes most of the 20-something generation. That most of the actors are unknown is a major plus. These people could be anyone.
But you won’t be watching this for the character nuances and you won’t be disappointed there, either. This film spends about 15 minutes introducing the players at a going away party before launching head long into battle. The allusions to 9/11 are many and disturbing. Dust covered people wandering in a daze, several people huddling inside a convenience store while destruction rolls past, lovers getting separated in a sea of people. It’s all here and uncomfortably realistic.
The hand held camera gimmick turns out to be anything but. We feel involved in the action. Even when the special effects kick in, it all seems real. Like we are living the nightmare. The worst is a desperate walk through a subway tunnel. It’s claustrophobic, eerie and will be living in my head for a long time. It takes a lot for a movie to get under my skin, but this one succeeds in ways I didn’t expect. Mainly, it puts a human face on all those stories of mass destruction and mayhem. A call from one character’s mother in the middle of the mess when he passes along the news of her other son’s death is a disquieting, eye opening moment. It’s not often a monster movie makes me pause and consider the personal toll of terrorism or natural disaster. Very seldom do we witness the results of the unthinkable.
Don’t worry, though. The genius of this movie is that it does all this within the frame work of an action movie. Once things get rolling (and it doesn’t take long) it doesn’t let up. I’ve complained a lot about movies being rated PG-13 when they would have been more entertaining as an R, but this is not one of those cases. If anything, the subtle (and, at times, not so subtle) implication of what is going on is much more horrifying than if it were explicit and gory. The result of a monster bite being the most memorable. Some times our imaginations conjure up visions far worse than anything shown on screen.
I also like that it’s never explained what the monster is or what is going on. We never learn where it came from, what it’s doing, what it IS, or if it can ever be defeated. We learn only what the people experiencing it learn. It’s chilling and refreshing at once. There is no extended dialogue about how to kill it or who is at fault. The people trapped in the city don’t care. They are just trying to survive.
One final note: Much has been made about the unstable camera work making people queasy or detracting from the story, but – at least for me – it enhanced the ‘you are there’ feel of it. I actually think this is the rare movie that may be better on a television screen then in a movie theater. On TV it really does feel like you’re watching someone’s home movie. I imagine the large screen can only take away from that feel.
Bottom line is I highly recommend this movie and it may be one of my all time favorites. I reserve that judgement until it hits cable and I rewatch it many times.
Today's distraction: Dedicated to a friend in need, it's one of the most addicting games of my life. I even hesitated putting this back here because I know I'll spend the next 4 hours playing it. Ladies and gents, it's the one; the only...Text Twist. Beware it's evil sucking in power.