a movie review by Jeff DeLuzio
If a Godzilla-type monster attacked, what would the event look like from ground zero? That's the premise of Cloverfield
, one of the most successful films of winter 2008.Kaiju
, films which depict impossibly large monsters doing battle with contemporary humanity, has a long history. King Kong
introduced the concept in 1933, but the template for most such films first appeared twenty years later with The Beast from 20000 Fathoms
(1954) cloned the formula and added subtext; the Japanese original, with its radioactive dragon, fiery destruction, and crowded hospitals clearly channeled the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Godzilla birthed endless sequels and imitators. The Big G did battle with legions of bizarre monsters, found a child-friendly rival in a toothy, fire-breathing turtle named Gamera, and gained international kin with names like Gorgo, Reptilicus, and the Giant Behemoth. Of course, the genre quickly lost its edge and became fodder for bored ten-year-olds and Mystery Science Theatre 3000.Cloverfield
restores the horror and disturbing subtext. This Kaiju has bite and power.
All of this develops from a simple premise. A very large monster attacks contemporary New York City. A group of twenty-somethings record the action while trying to rescue a trapped friend. We never learn the monster's origins and, to be honest, we don't need to know. Any explanation would only emphasize how ridiculous the premise is. We see the action as the characters experience it, and that keeps us gripped to our seats.
And these are characters, played by unknown actors. The first act of the film shows us young people at a fairly superficial party for Rob, who will be going to work in (appropriately) Japan. The video overlays an earlier one, in which chronicles a romantic day Rob and Beth spent together, the start of a relationship that he chose to abort because he would be leaving the country. Hud, the socially-inept geek of the group, receives the task of filming the event. The film gives us a home movie, that humble form which lately has mutated into Reality-tv and Youtube and camcorder shots and may become the next major artistic venue. We connect with the plausibility of the night. A plot even emerges, something that wouldn't be out of place on an MTV series.
Then something disturbs their hipster lives.
Once the attack starts, the pacing does not relent, and it affects us entirely because we can believe in these people. In this respect, the film recalls Children of Men
and Saving Private Ryan
. Rob heads into the city to save Beth, the woman he sent away. His motives are profoundly conflicted and entirely human.
The effects have been seamlessly integrated. Cloverfield
looks like camcorder footage of New York under attack by a gigantic monster. And the choice of New York is deliberate. The best horror always addresses society's fears and, just as Godzilla processed the Bomb, this movie echoes the events of 9-11. Some scenes look like outtakes from the news of that day. We're aware of that while watching, yet the fact did not feel cheaply exploitive. The fantasy element creates a certain distance, but we're also aware that every real-life disaster seems unbelievable when it occurs.
Of course, no movie is perfect.
I appreciate the conceit that we're watching Hud's recording of events, but I wish he could he have been slightly more competent with the camera. The shakiness can be distracting at times, and if you're prone to nausea, you'll need to pack the gravol.
Other complaints take the form of nits. Hud's camcorder survives considerable violence. For that matter, so do Lily's heels. My wife wondered afterwards if they were made from titanium. When the horror depends upon the impossible monster interacting with a believable world, even minor stylizations can distract.Cloverfield
captures with Blair Witch
techniques a Kaiju attack with echoes of Alien
and Lovecraft. The blend feels original -- and we may never see those old Godzilla movies in the same light again.
Director: Matt Reeves
Writer: Drew Goddard
Lizzy Caplan as Marlena Diamond
Michael Stahl David as Rob Hawkins
Jessica Lucas as Lily Ford
T.J. Miller as Hud Platt
Odette Yustman as Beth McIntyre
Mike Vogel as Jason Hawkins
Jeff DeLuzio has published one collection of short fiction, Snow-man's Land
(1996), a few hundred reviews and articles (many of these online under the name "Timeshredder"), workshopped seven original plays with teens, and served on panels at a number of conventions.
Labels: movie review