Cloverfield
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Golden Mug

2008 GOLDEN MUG WINNER:

Best Sound (Douglas Murray, William Files, Robert Shoup and Luke Dunn-Dielmuda)

2008 GOLDEN MUG NOMINEE:

Best Film Editing (Kevin Stitt)
Best Visual Effects (Simon Allmark, Kari Brown, Jennifer Hutcheon and Lee Ifans)


Theatrical Release Date: 01/18/2008
Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman

Since it appeared as a teaser before the “Transformers” movie last summer, one of the most talked about films has been “Cloverfield”. The buzz surrounding the project has been trying to figure out what everyone in the film seems to be afraid of as Manhattan is torn asunder.

Is it a robot? Is it a monster? Is it Godzilla? Is it Rosie O’Donnell jonesing for a twinkie? (The third theory is the least plausible in my opinion.)

I’m not going to let the cat out of the bag because that’s part of what works in the film. If you knew exactly what was going on, then the point of telling the entire film in first person from a camcorder is rendered moot.

Now, using this perspective has been done before, most noticeably in “The Blair Witch Project”. And while there was some initial motion sickness, the camera settles down fairly quickly and I didn’t have a problem with it. I really liked being brought along as a member of the cast essentially and as things happen, all you can hope for is that the actors in the film head in the right direction.

However, if you are particularly sensitive to hand-held camera work, then “Cloverfield” is not for you. In speaking with a friend who works at the theater I watched this at, she mentioned that four or five people had walked out in the first twenty minutes because they were feeling queasy and couldn’t take it anymore.

That being said, using this technique/gimmick really makes the film work since the best aspect is being along for the ride. You can only go where the characters go, you can only see what they see – and that’s usually not the big panoramic shot we’ve all become so used to in big, action/horror flicks.

This also helped to create a genuine sense of confusion and realistic portrayal of what groups of people do in chaotic situations. It starts as curiosity, drifts towards shock and confusion, then ramps up into terror. Wow, that sounds like my first three marriages … weird.

And I know I’m harping on this but it really is the driving element of the film; using first person perspective changes how you react to the events on-screen. Instead of trying to sympathize/empathize with a character as their friends die, you’re wondering how in the hell to get out of the area before something else comes along to kill you.

There’s a certain survival instinct that kicks in as you watch this film, you’re imagining in your own head how you’d react and where you’d go. Also, there’s no score to the film – which is apropos because the entire film is what was recorded on this one camcorder. This was another very good choice by the filmmakers to make everything feel more like a real event.

The actors all do a good job and the special effects team did a wonderful job. I didn’t look for elements that seemed overly fake or CGI though I knew they must have been. It helped that since the film was “shot through a camcorder”, there’s a grainy quality to it that makes rendering CGI much smoother and more believable.

As for the level of fear the film delivers, keep in mind (as many people know) that I’m a pansy. I’ve sworn off scary films for the most part because I don’t enjoy being scared, the excitement that used to accompany a good scare has worn off as I got older apparently. I say all this to help qualify that I was a bit creeped out / scared by some aspects of the film, however more hardcore individuals may not find the same level of trepidation.

I suppose then that the short running time of 90 minutes is a good thing (that time includes end credits … the film itself is much shorter than that because I left the theater an hour and half after the start, including the trailers). This kept me from having to squint and squirm too much, revealing how very unmanly I can be when watching films like this.

The short run-time also works in the film’s favor because adding more scenes would just have removed the good aspect of being left relatively in the dark about the whole scenario. Letting the audience fill in the gaps and theorize about the unfolding events is much more effective than giving them a fully annotated road map.

On the downside, major elements of “Cloverfield” are not original and had this been shot in the traditional manner, all that audiences would be left with is a ho-hum horror flick. There are many instances of unrealistic outcomes to situations but I didn’t necessarily fault the film for that until I sat down to write this review.

In talking over our experience with the film, Audrey Hess and I agreed on giving “Cloverfield” a solid 3 out of 5. While absolutely the right thing to do and well used, the first person perspective isn’t completely novel and the first twenty minutes of the film are pretty terrible. It’s supposed to set up the characters so we can empathize but it was like watching the raw footage of your buddy’s college frat party. However, once the dung hits the ceiling fan, most of that is forgotten.

If you’ve seen the teaser and you’re interested in finding out what’s going on, then by all means go out and see the film. If you’re not much of a horror/sci-fi fan, then skipping this seems rational. All I know is perhaps the most peculiar thing about the film is how much Lizzy Caplan looked like Zooey Deschanel. It was eerie sometimes … in a good way. (Call me.)