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.