Cloverfield (2008) review

Cloverfield posterDirector: Matt Reeves

Starring: Michael Stahl-David, Jessica Lucas, Mike Vogel, TJ Miller, Lizzy Caplan

HUD – “For all we know, it’s from another planet and it flew here.”

MARLENA – “Like Superman?”

HUD – “Yeah, exactly like… wait – you know who Superman is?”

MARLENA – “Oh. My. God. YOU know who Superman is? I’m, like, feeling something here. Are you aware of Garfield?”

For some reason despite my love of horror movies, my penchant for giant monster movies and my odd knack of stumbling upon countless found footage films (every word there linking to a different example), I’ve managed to go eight years without watching Cloverfield.

With its sequel 10 Cloverfield Lane recently released in cinemas, I figured if I was going to be late to the party I should at least do it at a relevant time.

I’m glad I did, because – and apologies if you already know this – Cloverfield is a nifty wee film.

"I knew that bloody blueprint had been drawn squinty"
“I just KNEW that bloody blueprint had been drawn all squinty”

For those with similar powers of evasion, let me fill you in on the basics. The entire movie is shot from the perspective of a single camera, owned by a young chap called Rob.

Rob has accepted a big job in Tokyo, so he’s had to wave sayonara to all his friends and family in New York and start a life in the city of giant monster movies. Oh wait, I get it.

Before he goes though, his brother Jason and his brother’s girlfriend Lily have decided to throw him a surprise birthday party, to be documented on tape by their mutual friend Hud.

Imagine genetically splicing Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill and increasing the awkwardness slider by about 50% and you’ve got Hud.

He’s a bit hapless, which is why he spends most of his party-filming time instead trying to chat up Marlena, a girl who has no interest in him because she’s too cool for school in a ‘Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Scott Pilgrim’ kind of way. Fitting, since Winstead is in the sequel.

This isn't her though, just to be clear
This isn’t her, just to be clear. Though for about 15 minutes I thought it was

As tensions are about to flare at the party over Rob and an affair he had with his friend Beth, the guests’ attention is quickly shifted to the massive booming noise that knocks the power out in the flat.

Running up to the rooftops to investigate, they see bits of New York blowing up. And this time, despite what you overhear some of the guests suggesting, it ain’t terrorists.

No, it soon becomes evident (shortly after the Statue of Liberty’s head is sent hurtling along Manhattan’s streets) that what we’re dealing with here is an enormous monster hell-bent on turning New York into a disaster zone.

You can add your own Donald Trump joke here, I’m not that predictable.

Can Rob and chums escape the giant beast’s attack on the city and make it somewhere safe? You’d hope so, but considering the movie starts with the same ‘Property of the US Government’ labelling you get on most found footage films where the heroes die, you’d be forgiven for thinking things might not end well.

Cloverfield’s an interesting one in that it did something with the Blair Witch found footage style that (at the time) was inventive by using it for a giant monster movie. While this idea has since been imitated by the likes of Troll Hunter, I’d say it’s yet to be bettered.

That’s as long as you can put up with 85 minutes of Queasycam footage, which might make you a little green around the gills even if you had no motion sickness issues with The Blair Witch Project.

There’s something about the way Hud uses his magical invincible camera (it’s amazing what it manages to survive by the end) that can turn some unsuspecting stomachs.

"Did you see that ruddy big tail thing going by?" "Nah mate, sorry, I was too busy spewing into a gutter because of the motion sickness"
“Did you see that ruddy big tail thing going by?” “Nah mate, sorry, I was too busy spewing into a gutter because of the motion sickness”

One area in which I feel the film is a slight letdown is its willingness to show a lot of the monster: perhaps too much too soon.

I’ve always been a big fan of the Jaws ‘keep them wanting more’ style and while the first half of the film does a great job with this by teasing us with glimpses – a bit of tail here, a cheeky wee flash of leg there – it soon just goes “ach, fuck it, here it is”.

And while the creature is indeed an ugly bugger and a unique-looking one at that (s/he’s more of a giant praying mantis than your conventional Godzilla-like lizard) we just see a little more of it than I’d have liked.

"City that never sleeps my arse, where's an enormous monster supposed to find a pint at 3am in this prick?"
“City that never sleeps my arse, where’s a monster supposed to find a pint at 3am in this prick?”

Still, you can’t blame the filmmakers for making the most of what is some impressive CGI work. The shakycam footage does a good job hiding the monster’s imperfections and making it look completely believable.

Indeed, it’s only during a scene where the camera isn’t going all wobbly – when Hud is filming the aforementioned Statue of Liberty head lying in the street – that the low quality of the CG becomes evident. Apart from this, it’s mostly spot on.

The film ticks along at a fair pace too, with the characters stumbling from each set-piece to the next encountering creepy subway parasite attacks, collapsed buildings and helicopter evacuation trouble along the way (speaking of which, exactly how many helicopters do the government expect it would take to evacuate New York?).

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled CG artists yearning to breathe free"
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled CG artists yearning to breathe free”

Cloverfield is a decent Godzilla-esque monster movie presented in a novel way, and while it may not be the sort of thing that is likely to stand up to repeat viewings, for sheer one-off spectacle you really should give it a whirl if you haven’t yet.

Having not yet seen 10 Cloverfield Lane – expect a review next week – I can’t say with certainty whether you’d need to watch this first, though I’d doubt it’s essential. What I can say is that it’s still a fun creature feature that’s worth checking out regardless of whether you plan to see its follow-up.

trev_newtrev_newtrev_newtrev_half_new

HOW CAN I SEE IT?
Cloverfield is easily available on DVD and Blu-ray. It’s also currently on Netflix and NOW TV in the UK, but if you want to watch it digitally in the US you’ll need to pony up for a rental.

SHOW ME THE TRAILER:

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