Film review by: Witney Seibold


            From Matt Reeves, the director of the David Schwimmer vehicle “The Pallbearer,” comes the most thrilling kaiju film since… well, actually I think I can safely say this is the best American kaiju film ever made. Not that it has stiff competition; the 1998 version of “Godzilla” isn’t exactly hailed as classic, and “D-War: Dragon Wars,” while widely hailed has horrific, was technically a South Korean production. For those of you unfamiliar with the kaiju genre, it’s the class of films that features stories-high monsters wailing on each other, and smashing large cities, usually in Japan.

            The title, “Cloverfield” was originally the film’s secret code title under which executive producer J.J. Abrams (director of “Mission: Impossible III”) hid it from the prying eyes of the press. His offices are on Cloverfield blvd. in Santa Monica. Eventually, though, a title could not be conceived for this picture, and “Cloverfield” became its actual handle. The film gets around this odd choice by declaring that the film we are seeing, assembled from “found” camcorder footage, was classified as Code Name: “Cloverfield” by the military. Whatever.

            “Cloverfield” is about a large monster – one of unknown origin – tearing New York City to shreds, and the way we insect-like humans try to survive in the immediate hours following its first appearance. The film’s approach, though, is the ingenious approach used in “The Blair Witch Project:” the entire film is told from the camcorder of one of the many victims. This approach is largely a gimmick, but it’s a good gimmick, and one that makes the panic seem all the more urgent, the fear all the more palpable, and the immediacy and confusion all the more real. When we see the head of the Statue of Liberty land on the street in front of our hapless cameraman, it feels like it could actually happen, rather than an overwrought set piece from a Roland Emmerich film.

            The human story involves a small group of twentysomethings trying to travel across Manhattan amongst the monstery bedlam to rescue a friend.

            The characters we stay with (played by Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, Michael Stahl-David, and T.J. Miller as the voice of the little-seen camerman) are vapid and annoying. They drink too much, and talk like coked-up fratboys. What’s worse, they are played only by taut, gorgeous, model-looking actors and actresses who have perfect hair and makeup. It’s like the cast of “The Hills” threw a party where a monster showed up. If the shaky, hand-held camerawork is supposed to give us a “you are there” feeling, then perhaps the leads should look and feel more like everypeople, and not like J. Crew catalogue models. Imagine if the cast was all fiftysomethings. I think the film would have been all the better for it.


Aren't they pretty?

Aren't they pretty?

            The shaky camera may make you dizzy, ands the film is frequently noisy. I think I was lucky that I saw it on video. A big screen would have given me vertigo.

            The film does not make any sort of commentary on the ubiquity of cameras and our need to use them all the time (see “George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead” for that), and it doesn’t seem to be using the monster as a metaphor for the World Trade Center incident or science run amok. It doesn’t seem to have much of an agenda at all. It is, however, a decent and frightening and involving monster thriller.

            Plus it’s got giant bugs. Giant bugs make any film better.


Smile for the camera!

Smile for the camera!

Published in: on August 27, 2008 at 11:14 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. CLOVERFIELD became a love it ot hate it event. Personally, Im in the camp that loved it, as I thought it captured a 9/11 type of fear that was truly erie! Shaky-cam in this case didn’t bother me that much!

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