The media was hyping Cloverfield well before its release. The marketing tactic was unusual for a big studio film: rather than giving away plot lines in a trailer, the movie was shrouded in secrecy. The strategy was for the audience to see it with very few expectations, but a desire to unravel the mystery. Posters and ads asked the pertinent question: “What is Cloverfield?” with an image of the Statue of Liberty with its head torn off. Admittedly, the strategy worked: the lack of expectations is a stalwart against disappointment. I may be pulling back the curtain, but oh well.
Producer J.J. Abrams is no stranger to the mystery genre. He co-created Lost, a cult television series that has kept its audience looking for clues for the past three years. For Cloverfield, Abrams enlisted Lost (and former Buffy) writer Drew Goddard, as well as director Matt Reeves, with whom he had co-created Felicity some years ago. As far as the actors go, it is evident within the first minute of the film that they are all future material for GQ and Cosmo covers. They play the relationship-drama game until the film turns into an action-packed disaster movie.
The film is entirely shot as a home video as we follow the twentysomethings into more and more danger. Surprisingly, the technique is not annoying. Instead, it helps enhance the fear factor: we can’t get an entirely clear picture of the nature of those flying balls of fire or what the hell that giant beast crushing buildings is all about. With monster classics like Godzilla or Jurassic Park or King Kong, we know what to expect. But in Cloverfield, we, just like the main characters, don’t know what just hit New York. The threat is unknown.
While watching the film, I couldn’t help but think how the images eerily recall September 11 videos. That day in 2001, the threat was unknown and the media couldn’t correctly identify it as it was happening. The grainy, rough quality of the footage was jarring. Beyond the too-beautiful cast of characters, Cloverfield is hard around the edges because of that very aesthetic. Moreover, the film concludes when the protagonist turns the camera on himself and acknowledges that he has captured history in the making. The entire film is presented as a 90-minute uncut video recording, a document in an unknown future. One that can be re-watched to try to understand what happened, not unlike some 9/11 home videos.
To be honest though, I wanted the film to end after about an hour. The protagonist’s heroism and the romance were hard to buy. However, there is never a dull moment – I’ll give them that. The characters always move forward and find themselves in increasingly dangerous situations; as an action film, it fulfills expectations completely. If I was stuck in Manhattan as it was falling to pieces, I’d find a shelter and stay there. But I guess that wouldn’t make a very good movie, now would it?
Cloverfield is playing at the Cinema Banque Scotia (977 Ste. Catherine O.)