Cloverfield–the Review

A hot summer day. A party is underway, in an upscale Manhattan apartment. Beautiful people abound. A friend of the host, slightly worse for the booze, has been assigned to record the party on a digital handicam. Inane shout-outs into the camera, scraps of conversation are recorded on tape. And then suddenly, without any of the ominous background score and the other standard portends of cinematic doom that announce their arrival, death and devastation intrudes on the merry gathering, in a way eerily reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Masque of Red Death” .

“Cloverfield” , reportedly “inspired” by the South Korean movie “Host” (which I have not seen) is the latest in a long line of apocalyptic monster/alien/virus themed movies that Hollywood churns out with monotonic regularity, almost identical in their depiction of epic carnage, gore, ugly monsters and superhuman heroism. Except that here, there are no sweeping camera angles, no explicit story arc, no backstory or solution, and no superstud who saves the day. Instead what we have is a 84 minute, single-person-wielding-a-handicam perspective of a few hours of urban terror, where shaky shots of collapsing buildings pack as much horror as that of a character, hiding in a deserted metro station, breaking the news of his brother’s death over the cellphone to their mother.

This movie is of course not for everyone. If jerky camera movements make you feel nauseous, avoid Cloverfield like the plague. If you found “Blair Witch Project” (one of my favorite horror movies) to be an overhyped piece of tripe, then safe to say you will not like “Cloverfield”. If you define movies only as vehicles for story-telling and for character development, “Cloverfield” will leave you dissatisfied, being as it is nothing more than a haphazard collection of nightmarish sequences stitched together by presses of the record button. If you like crisp dialoges, smart comebacks and dashes of humor, you will find nothing here but sobs, cries for help, shock, desperation and inanities—the kind of what would come out of our mouths if ever faced with such a situation.

This movie can also be distasteful for some, exploiting as it does 9/11 and the concomitant fear of urban annihilation. However playing on generational primal fears is exactly what defines many a classic horror movie— if the “red menace” paranoia and government conspiracies and out-of-control science dominated themes till the 90s, in today’s world nothing chills more to the bone than the ever present threat of urban cataclysm and the disquieting “carry home” realization that it does not need a hideous wingless bat to be its cause.

A few innocuous-looking men with boarding passes and box cutters are enough.

16 thoughts on “Cloverfield–the Review

  1. ‘…death and devastation intrudes on the merry gathering, in a way eerily reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Masque of Red Death”’

    That & every disaster movie for ever. The last one I remember where a party is similarly pooped is the new version of Poseidon Adventure. Someone wrote that this is the ideal movie to download & watch on cellphones or computers due to its camera work – film grammar for the handheld apparently. Horror movies have been doing this jerky handheld style for some time now, but disaster movies had refrained since production values are important to show the immensity of the moster & the disaster it wroughts. An interesting development. Let’s see if there are more such low budgeters in the offing.

  2. @Tipu,

    Well I have seen the old version of Poseidon’s Adventure with Gene Hackman. However let me assure you that the party sequence of “Poseidon’s Adventure” and the sequence in Cloverfield are very very different in the their impact. The multiple camera angles and the shots of the wave never allow you to “get in” to the story as much a single camera perspective does. Just my opinion. I could tell you a bit more about the differences but I want to leave this as spoiler free as possible.

  3. Blair Witch Project was great (the supposedly intelligent types that were arguing that it was a true story recorded in real life events weren’t very much so..) but the raw fear that was shown chilled me to the bone.

    Will be looking forward to this movie. No dramatisation required for me.

  4. The story is nothing new, but this flick had two great things going for it. One, as you pointed out, its Blair-Witchy flow with the camera (I got spooked big time when the guy switches on camera night-vision in the tunnel and sees those creepy-crawlies) The other is they didn’t try to explain what the monster was. This thing apparently, is just… a monster from the sea. No high-funda explanations like they had in Godzilla, about nucleics or genetic modification or whatever. That was good.

  5. Gotta get myself a copy of this ‘home video’…

  6. GB,

    Liked the movie in parts. You’re right about the single camera perspective- helps to create a strong narrative content & makes it more authentic. Also I thought, this film was able to evoke primal fear better than most other films of this genre, almost comparable to ‘war of the worlds’.

  7. Sid..No More The Kid February 8, 2008 — 7:57 am

    @ ravi Ivaturi— War of the World evoked pimal fear in you????? Is that what you are saying?? In that case, I must have missed something that you saw in that movie!!! Now Blairwitch– scared me shitless 🙂
    Watched some trashy Bollywood remake of Blarwitch ( complete with item numbers, romantic ditties and all)and that evoked the primal fear in me- namely that of Jimmy Shergil, Kim Sharma and director Dilip Sood and co.;) I am surprised that it found no mention in GB’s 2007 Best/worst movie list

  8. @Sid, Orson Welles’ 1938 radio version of WotW evoked mass hysteria in the US. It holds up very well even now. Actually, the film version wasn’t bad at all, though perhaps not primally fearful.

    Can we call Blair Witch the Professor Shonku of contemporary movies?

    @GB – will add Calcutta’s favorite disaster movie The Towering Inferno to the list of “where’s the party yaar bhago bhoot aaya” subgenre. But of course, these are all gaudy & overproduced blockbusters, not under-the-radar semi-indi ones like Cloverfield. The point I was making was that the stories are usually along similar lines in many of these movies. But obviously, Cloverfield has found a unique way to tell it & thank God for it.

  9. Sid, guess we interpret ‘primal’ differently. Any point of view- that is very experiential, personal, visceral & intense can create a primal ambience- in contrast to a sophisticated treatment.

    War of the Worlds had all these elements, it’s a deglamourized blue-collar perspective, the screenplay is more personal- instead of a global coverage of the alien invasion, it’s mostly about how a family survives a horrendous event…

  10. Blair with project lasting image of the guy facing the wall and the fallen camera recording its last images… no wonder it made such an ipmact on the horror movie fans…

    And btw, A few innocuous-looking men with boarding passes and box cutters are enough– subtle 😛

  11. “Blair witch project” is a hard to beat classic. But there is one more – an old ZeeTV serial ~1994-5(?) with a few characters and a man in a clown mask popping up every now and then. Absolutely scary, but with no props whatsoever.

  12. Thanks for the post GB and specifically for explaining the appeal of the movie. I, for one, with my love for character driven movies, can skip it.

  13. I love haphazard and random… thrive on bits and scraps… looks like something I should check out… nothing frightens the urban homo sapien more the than destruction of concrete structures and superficial calm that abounds; so much so that he doesnt realise unless it is pointed to him

  14. I did like the Blair Witch Project, that is one of my favorites too. Even Pi, is full of jerky camera movements although it has a definite story, well sort of. Cloverfield is very interesting, I will give you that you are right but I realize I like stories. Somehow I didn’t enjoy this one very much. Also I did get a little sick with all the movements.

  15. “Cloverfield” , reportedly “inspired” by the South Korean movie “Host” (which I have not seen) …

    Just saw “The Host”. It has no similarity with Cloverfield. Cloverfield has a unique storytelling style, which makes it more interesting than it perhaps should be, but Host is clever, always visually pushing the envelope of the genre & generally much more rewarding to watch. Host even has a desi family (though someone saying in the scene asks if they are Pakitani) something in Hindi to the effect of dekho, samundar sey machhli aa raha hai…

  16. @ Arnab
    I saw Cloverfield for the first time. What I loved most about this movie was that it was a study of how different people respond to severe and sudden adversity. Their motives, responses- both instingtive and planned, their emotions, internal and external…amazing.

    Very impressive.

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