Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Cloverfield (2008)

**This review contains spoilers**

In New York City, Rob (Michael Stahl-David) is preparing to take a new job in Japan, so his brother, Jason (Mike Vogel) and Jason’s girlfriend, Lily (Jessica Lucas) decide to throw him a surprise going-away party. Rob’s best friend, Hud (T.J. Miller) is the camera man, who films everything, including good-bye speeches from all of Rob’s friends.

But the party takes an awkward turn, when Rob’s longtime friend, Beth (Odette Yustman) shows up with another guy named Travis (Ben Feldman). In the hallway outside of his apartment, Rob and Beth exchange some harsh words in a heated argument. Recently, Rob and Beth had a one-night stand, and to Rob’s disappointment, Beth didn’t have any plans to take their relationship to the next level afterwards. Furious, Rob wishes Travis “good luck,” as he leaves the party with an angry and embarrassed Beth.

After Rob’s blowup with Beth, a series of random explosions and thunderous roars end the party. Rob, Jason, Lily, Hud, and a mutual friend named Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) run outside to join the crowd of panicked New Yorkers. Suddenly, the head from the Statue Of Liberty rolls down the street, and eventually, Rob, Jason, Lily, Hud, and Marlena learn the shocking truth: a giant monster is wreaking havoc in New York City, destroying everything in its path.

As they try to escape on the Brooklyn Bridge, the monster attacks, destroying the bridge, and killing Jason in the process. Rob receives a voice mail from Beth, pleading with him to come to her apartment, and rescue her before the monster returns. Using guilt and the possibility of one last chance to tell Beth how he truly feels as motivation, Rob leads, Lily, Hud, and Marlena through New York and the monster’s path of destruction to find and save Beth before it’s too late.

T.J. Miller provides some much needed comic relief in Cloverfield. Hud is responsible for 90% of the humor in Cloverfield (you could give the other ten to Lizzy Caplan. Marlena’s argument with Hud in the subway about Superman and Garfield is hilarious), and Miller gives you a break from the constant “OH MY GOD!” or “WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT THE MONSTER!” hysteria from the rest of the cast. No real complaints about performance quality from this cast, because I can’t think of anyone, who was noticeably bad, or someone that “dropped the ball” so to speak.

Most found-footage films abuse the shaky cam crap, and unfortunately, Cloverfield is no different. The nauseating and convulsive shaky cam style is annoying, BUT Matt Reeves (the director) deserves some credit for not showing too much in Cloverfield. Yeah, you’ll see a full view of the mini monsters (the big monster releases little monsters from its body to help destroy New York City) before the end, but you don’t actually see full close-ups of the big monster until the very end. The conserved approach keeps you guessing throughout the whole movie. What is this thing? What does it look like? How big is it? Depending on what scares you and what doesn’t scare you, the final close-up reveals for the monster might shock, or disappoint you. Either way, you’ll want to stick around until the end, because with all the teasing, you’ll reach a point where you have to see what the monster looks like.

One of the main reasons why I still have a strange obsession with Cloverfield is, because ’til this day, I can still vividly remember the marketing campaign. It was so mysterious and vague, but I couldn’t fight the urge. I HAD to see this movie. The trailers and TV spots barley showed anything, but the little they did show was enough to hook me in (explosions, firefights with the military, the head from the Statue Of Liberty rolling down the street, etc.). And like a week before the movie hit, they started a countdown with the TV spots, and they added the words “we fight back” on the release date for the movie. You were lead to believe you were going to see an action packed and epic found-footage film, that showed mankind’s last stand against some evil and unstoppable force. To add to all of this, in the preliminary stages, they marketed Cloverfield as 1-18-08 (the release date). It felt like a big event, and you knew you just had to be in a theater to watch Cloverfield on this date.

Although, when it comes to Cloverfield’s marketing campaign, it’s kind of a double-edged sword. They did a wonderful job of hyping up the movie and the mystery behind Cloverfield to the point, where you had to see it no matter what. But the trailers and TV spots were VERY misleading. Yeah, the military fights, and drops bombs on the monster with “Operation Hammer Down” at the end, but that’s the problem. The leading cast isn’t fighting the monster, the military is. And on top of that, the “fighting the monster to save New York and the world” storyline is just used as a backdrop for the main story: Rob, Lily, Hud, and Marlena are risking their lives to rescue Beth, and save her before the monster returns. Don’t be fooled. Rob going after Beth, and falling in love with her again towards the end is the main story. Fighting the monster takes a backseat as a sub-plot. The camera constantly malfunctioning throughout the movie, and showing flashbacks of Rob and Beth together is a prime example of this.

And speaking of Rob, character wise, he’s a real bitch. He risks the lives of his friends to save Beth, and of course, Marlena is attacked and bitten by one of the mini monsters in the subway. When they finally make it to a military checkpoint, Marlena succumbs to the venom from the monster, and to avoid an outbreak of the infection, the soldiers have to kill her on the spot. AND when Lily, Hud, and Rob go outside, Hud starts crying over Marlena’s death. Long story short, Hud had a crush on Marlena, and they actually started to develop a bond before and after the bite. Anyway, like a dick, Rob rushes Lily and Hud, as Hud continues to sob, refusing to give Hud a brief moment to grieve, because you know, “WE HAVE TO SAVE BETH AND TIME IS RUNNING OUT!” So Rob, Lily, Hud, and a wounded Beth make it to the last set of helicopters leaving New York. Lily gets into one, and flies off. Rob, Hud, and Beth get into another helicopter, but the monster swats it to the ground. And guess what? The monster kills Hud on the ground.

None of this would’ve happened, if Rob didn’t decide to risk the lives of his friends to save Beth, and for me, Rob is easily the most unlikeable character in this movie. Yeah, I know. For those of you that watched Cloverfield, Rob gave his friends a choice to go with the military, so Rob could rescue Beth by himself, or come with him to rescue Beth, but come on now. Rob already knew the answers before he asked the questions. Lily is your brother’s girlfriend, Marlena is a real friend, and Hud is your best friend. Real friends wouldn’t let one of their own walk through a ravaged city with a monster running around alone.

Some of the deaths are unreal in Cloverfield. When the soldiers kill Marlena, they drag her into this room with a curtain. Behind the curtain, they show the silhouette of Marlena being put into position by soldiers and doctors, and then, in the blink of an eye, a splatter of blood splashes against the curtain, as Hud cuts away with the camera. The other is Jason’s death on the Brooklyn Bridge. He’s standing over the crowd trying to get Rob’s attention from the other side. The monster attacks, and out of nowhere, a huge hunk of the bridge falls, and crushes him instantly. A handful of jaw-dropping moments in Cloverfield, but those two stand out amongst everything else.

So with all my complaining and nitpicking, I still enjoy Cloverfield. It’s an intense and shocking found-footage monster movie with a few crafty action sequences. It doesn’t matter how many times I watch it, the beginning to Cloverfield hooks me in, and after that, I have to stick around until the end.

Oh, and a little extra tidbit. Pay close attention to the final home movie with Rob and Beth on the Ferris wheel at the end. Look in the background at the ocean, and you can see the monster falling from the sky, and dropping into the water. It happens quick, and it’s kind of small (because the view of the background is out of focus), but if you look real close, you can see how the monster came to Earth, and eventually New York City. I’ve probably seen this movie six times or more, and I just caught it on my most recent viewing.  

Rating: 7/10

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