Directed by Matt Reeves
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“The great sea god of the North has returned. They cannot kill it with fire. Go back!”
Let me just be upfront about this right from the start:
Cloverfield is my favourite movie.
Your feelings (of course) may vary.
A favourite movie is a strange thing tho. Like: mostly I think a favourite movie is just a movie whose name you say when someone asks you what your favourite movie is. (From my experience the person asking this question is way more likely to be a guy rather than a girl: have other people experienced the same thing or is it just me? Like are boys socially conditioned to want to pick favourites and make lists and stuff all the time? While girls are raised to be more laid-back and not so I-don’t-know-what-the-right-word-is or is it something else? Or am I seeing something that’s not there? Please: answers on a postcard and/or an email).
Choosing your favourite movie is an interesting thing tho. Like: I don’t know if other people are up for this – but I kinda wanna throw down the gauntlet and ask everyone on the list:
1. What’s your favourite movie?
And 2. What do you think this says about you?
Like: it feels like a pretty unremarked upon kinda thing: but the films and whatever that we put our hearts around and say “Yes. These ones. These ones are the best ones” – it’s not just about how we see the films (“Oh yeah – this scene is really well done” or whatever) but also (and maybe more importantly?) it’s about how we see ourselves.
Like: if you wanna be crude about it – it’s about the image that we want to project. So you know: I’m the kind of person that loves big-smashy explosion-strewn Michael Bay films. Or I’m really into obscure art house stuff that you’ve probably never heard of. Or I just really love old Disney movies. Or my whole DVD collection is full of Westerns. Like: as much as we might want to resist it – the stuff that you like will tell other people about you. And like it or not – you’ll end up being matched to a “type” or a template or whatever you want to call it…
But I’m actually thinking of the maybe-more subtle phenomena of how our favourite movies and stuff affect the ways that we see ourselves… Like: if I was going to be rude about it – (not that I would ever be rude of course of course) I’ve never been able to shake the sneaking suspicion that the main reason that people like jazz is because they like to think of themselves as the type of person who likes jazz. Because you know – it’s has this cultural meaning of being all : la-de-da – sophisticated and smart and intellectual and all that stuff. (Nice).
So – there’s a part of me that just loves Cloverfield and thinks that it’s amazing and everything. And everytime I watch it – it makes me happy. It makes me smile and excited and the whole thing just gives me such a rush (altho full disclosure: maybe it’s a case of diminishing returns? Because the best time was the first time: but maybe that’s just life? Lol).
But behind the “well – I just love it” lizard-brain part of myself: there’s all the reasons why it’s a nice nifty piece of film-making (I know most people will probably just get angry about this: but Cloverfield is kinda like to me what a film by Autechre would be like: in a sense anyways…) there’s the stuff that I guess it says about me / how it makes me think and feel about myself… I mean: first of all I guess it marks me out as being different (Most people’s reaction to when I say “Cloverfield” is “Cloverfield?”). It’s a mixture of things that I dig: Horror. Sci-fi. Small dashes of comedy – (“I’m, like, feeling something. Are you aware of Garfield?”)
Altho – wait – is T.J. Miller on all of our blacklists now? I don’t really know…
Also – it’s very simple. You know: no frills. A bunch of people running away from a monster. It’s basic. Straight to the point. (And hey: if anyone wants to shoehorn a discussion about Annihilation in: maybe we could talk about the difference between sci-fi films where you basically have no idea why the crazy sci-fi thing is happening (Cloverfield) versus films that basically have a character spell it all out (Annihilation)).
Which you know: brings me to the one of my favourite things about it which strangely enough is one of the main criticisms I hear about whenever I bring it up at dinner parties (which is like: all the time. Note: never invite me to your dinner party). Basically: “Oh you know – it’s just a rollercoaster ride.”
To which I can only really exclaim: yes. And then yes. And then yes again. And oh my god: why are you saying that as a bad thing? And maybe that’s like the problem with everyone’s appreciation of cinema right there? Because how on earth can you describe a film as a rollercoaster ride and then think like that’s a bad thing? Personally I blame the novel and theater as it seems to have conditioned and warped people’s brains to such an extent that the only way that can recognise something as being good or not is it’s wordy as fuck and has lots of people looking serious and talking way too much. And you know: what makes Cloverfield such a good film is that it’s very very much a film. In that a novelization just wouldn’t come anywhere close to working. (How would you describe the glitches on the camera? How lame would it be to describe everyone talking into the camera all the time? How do you do the shaking around and that feeling of movement? It’s been like doing a novel of a song. Just… everything about it would be totally lost. Which you know: is one of my own personal checkmarks about what makes a cool work of art is when something is irreducibly itself.
(So yeah: maybe the dialogue isn’t great but hey: WHATEVER. Maybe just close your eyes and pretend it’s Dogme 95 or whatever?)
Bu whoop – let me leave it there for now and open up the floor to other people (someone else has promised “OPINIONS. Also theories. And possibly graphs.”). But yeah – it feels like there is so much to talk about here. You know: the found-footage-ness of it. The rich people-ness of it. The JJ Abrams-ness of it. The stone cold scientific fact that it has the single best trailer of all time.
Hell if you really want to: you can even talk about The Cloverfield Paradox. (Shudder).
What do you think?
I did not watch this in ideal circumstances so the rollercoaster elements of the film were blunted somewhat. Even then you could tell it was a well-put-together popcorn movie. I guess the reason I don’t think it’s anything special is that it doesn’t leave me with anything after it’s over. It’s not a film I can dwell on, and as a result I barely remember what happens in it. It operates only on the immediate / sensory level, whereas my favourite films are often those that make me think about things.
Joel’s OTM about favourite films and how they are usually ways to position yourself or signal things about yourself to other people. If you forced me to pick I would say something like Pan’s Labyrinth (a theological-political tract hidden underneath a fantasy film). But that’s a kind of shorthand for saying I like fantasy films, foreign language films, films with ornate and gothic set design, films with lots and lots of metaphor. But picking one film disguises as much as it reveals. I haven’t actually watched Pan’s Labyrinth in a long time, and everything Del Toro has made since has made me question how clever he really is.
I think for Joel and myself picking a favourite film is not just about saying what you’re like – were also making an an argument about what good films are. You offer your faves as recommendations so other people see your point of view. Correct me if I’m wrong, Joel, but I think you are offering Cloverfield as an argument for the best cinema being about sensory overload – the sort of thing that bypasses the brain and attacks the body directly. It’s almost like cinema as music – providing that rush of a great pop song. Whereas Pan’s Labyrinth is an argument for cinema as a vehicle for thinking, getting you to excavate a film as a text to work out what it’s saying about the big questions of life.
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Looking forward to writing about this.
I wanted to ask if you “Joel specifically” but anyone else who wants to chime in, had any thoughts on the Cloverfield background viral campaign stuff that led up to the film. Is that irrelevant, did it help to have a “mythos”? Because I remember thinking at the time it was kind of cool, but then that was before I was aware there was a thing called fandom.
I don’t intend to talk about this in my Cloverfield diatribe, but interested in views.
Yeah it was really interesting. Basically what it ended up doing was checking in with the movie at two points:
-The drunk girl on the sofa who’s onscreen for about three seconds is a big part of it.
-Her boyfriend is ultimately the MASSIVE focus of it given he was (I think) on the Tagruato rig when Clover attacked it. He’s also the other guy filming that Hud sees just before the bridge attack.
They’ve done some really fun stuff with it using the other two movies too. Here’s a decent trailhead:
And this is pretty useful too
Upon watching this film very recently (The same day that Cloverfield Paradox came out) I found myself enjoying this film quite a lot. I was very reluctant to watch this film as I’m not the biggest fan of “Found Footage” films. (Chronicle being the sole exception prior to watching.) I felt like the party scene was the best well written scene, as the dialogue felt natural. Once the actual invasion began for the longest time I just felt annoyed and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then I realised it was the constant shouting of “Oh Fuck! Oh Shit!” from TJ Miller’s Character. If he shut up everyone once and a while I could have actually gushed over how well done the actual horror elements were done. The ending was a bit of a let down for me, it just felt too rushed. However, I feel like the point of it was to be unexpected, if it was it worked.
The advertising for this film was great and has been a tradition going forth for each film. I remember watching the original trailer wondering “What the hell is this!!?”. And I wouldn’t find out until the poster was reviled as the trailer did not show the title. However, this might be a detriment to the film itself, because to this day I still hear people talking about how great the advertising was, rather than how great the film was.
Also this film would have been 10 times better if it was released in 360p quality to really make it feel like it was filmed on a camcorder.
I really love this: “I think for Joel and myself picking a favourite film is not just about saying what you’re like – we’re also making an an argument about what good films are.” Because yeah – totally spot on. And kinda speaks a little to why I always tend to feel a little bit disappointed maybe when someone says that their favourite film is something already universally beloved. I mean: how much are you really saying if you say that your favourite film is The Empire Strikes Back? Isn’t that like saying that your favourite food is a Big Mac and Coke (or – whoops: am I being too harsh?).
Also: I love the distinction between films that you experience in the moment (films as pop songs / cinema as music = fuck yeah and reminds me of what Kacey was saying about mother!: “Like the best pop songs, they usually appear simple and silly, but are hiding things that can change your life.”) versus films as “a vehicle for thinking” (films as novels maybe?). I mean obviously obviously the best films would probably be those that manage to synthesise the two (for some reason Donnie Darko springs to mind…). But I guess my feeling would be that critics tend to love the second type way more than the first as obviously – it’s easier to put into words something that is offering a literary experience. While talking about the effects of Cloverfield I would argue is a lot lot harder (unless you just wanna write BIFF! POW! BAM!) and so it’s much easier maybe just to dismiss it as well – “a rollercoaster.”
(How does one describe the experience of riding a rollercoaster anyway apart from “WOW!”?)
Re: “Cloverfield background viral campaign stuff” aka The JJ Abrams-ness of it all. I mean – obviously obviously the hype and promo of a film directly influences how you experience the film right? (Of course!). And yeah: as already mentioned: best trailer ever. Altho it was so good that I refused to listen or read or watch anymore anything (including all the later trailers) before I watched it – which I think almost definitely contributed to my overwhelming positive experience of it. Because as I think I’ve already mentioned: I very much love the stuff that doesn’t really tell you too much about all the reasons why the crazy stuff is happening and just lets you enjoy it – or what I like to call – the Tremors School of Film-Making:
Valentine McKee: [joking] They’re mutations caused by radiation. No, wait; the government made ’em. *Big* surprise for the Russians.
Rhonda LeBeck: Well, there’s nothing like them in the fossil record… Okay, so they predate the fossil record.[not buying it herself]
Rhonda LeBeck: That’d make them a couple of billion years old… and we’ve just never seen one until now. Right.
Earl Bassett: I vote for outer space. No way these are local boys.
Altho talking of amazing trailers and JJ: second place has got to go to the Super 8 trailer (anyone remember Super 8? Hello? No? Anyone?) which is the only trailer that literally changed my experience of watching the film and gave me hairs on the back of my neck – and I don’t think I’ve ever seen this mentioned anywhere else: but the scene in the trailer and the scene in the film are taken from different angles. So when the train crash happens in the film – the film already takes into account that you’ve already watched the trailer and then plays with it. Which I think is just kinda… well… wow.
I wanted to ask if you “Joel specifically” but anyone else who wants to chime in, had any thoughts on the Cloverfield background viral campaign stuff that led up to the film.
I totally missed the viral campaign. I came to Cloverfield later, via 10 Cloverfield Lane. (Which I really liked.)
I distinctly remember my trip to see Cloverfield in the cinema (hardly knowing anything about it thanks to an extremely well executed marketing campaign) and just how varied the reactions to the film were between myself and the two friends I saw it with. One outright hated it, saying she “couldn’t wait for the annoying main characters to die!” The other thought it was “just ok” but said he would have preferred a more conventional monster movie instead of “Blair Witch on steroids.” For me personally, though, I genuinely loved the film.
We all know just how overused and undercooked the “Found Footage” genre is now thanks to the popularity of Paranormal Activity and its 25 sequels; horror films made on the cheap relying exclusively on jump-scares for their entertainment value. Cloverfield, however, is made all the stronger by presenting itself as a product of the first-hand experience of people thrust into the middle of an event beyond their comprehension. With its jerky photography, clouds of dust and debris everywhere and the sounds of sirens and screaming echoing in the background, the movie’s aesthetic during the “monster attack” sections is clearly reminiscent of real-life atrocities caught on tape . Whether one finds this enjoyable or not, it is undoubtedly effective. The glimpses of the attacking creature caught in grainy and shaky camera footage I found much more unnerving than if we were just treated to an overload of CGI shots.
I was also a big fan of the way we would occasionally be shown footage that was supposedly being “recorded over” on the camera’s tape, where we would be privy to happier times in some of the characters’ lives. This is much more economic storytelling than literal flashbacks or, worse, clunky exposition. Ultimately, we never get any real answers as to what the creature was, where it came from and why it was carrying gigantic mutant fleas with it, although there are a few subtle hints peppered throughout. We don’t even find out whether the monster itself survives the final assault against it, unless you count the soundbyte at the end of the closing credits (which I only recently found out was there). A lot of people might find this annoying and anti-climactic – I know the friends I saw it with did – but in my opinion it works perfectly with the chaotic, unpredictable tone of the film.
I will admit, however, that the last twenty minutes or so of the film (basically everything after the fantastically horrifying medical camp scene) stretch the limits of believability a bit too much to take seriously. The exhausted, injured and generally out-of-their-depth characters seem to perform feats of strength and survival that wouldn’t look out of place in a superhero film. And, yes, some of those characters can get rather annoying with their constant exclamations, particularly cameraman Hud. (Hud = Heads Up Display… get it?)
With his work on the subsequent Planet of the Apes sequels, director Matt Reeves proved that he wasn’t a one-trick-pony and I hope he has a long and fruitful career ahead of him. Now I just hope his Batman project can get off the ground before he reaches retirement age…
I missed Cloverfield in the theaters, and it was one of those movies that had such a huge hype-train in front of it, which then seemed to get derailed, so I wasn’t really looking forward to it. When I finally got around to seeing, I sort of loved it! Found footage doesn’t work often for me. The thing that made Blair Witch great was it was so genuine. You can’t get more immersive than found footage, it’s 100% POV. The characters have to really live within their setting, and I felt that happened with Cloverfield.If there was a theme to the negative reaction I’ve seen around the film is that there wasn’t a payoff. You didn’t see the monster, you didn’t fight the monster, there was little to no real resolution in a traditional movie sense. And a lot of people can’t stray too far from those expected steps. I remember once I shared a song I wrote with a fellow songwriter and her response was, “Where’s the chorus?” The song didn’t have a chorus, it was AAA format. She could not handle this. She kept giving me ideas for a chorus, just because she felt all songs have a chorus. When a movie doesn’t have a chorus, you’ve strayed too far for some folks.
As far as my favorite film goes, it’s “Breaking The Waves”. 1996, directed by Lars Von Trier in something close to the Dogme 95 format, blah, blah, blah. I don’t generally tell people that’s my favorite film. Because it’s not relatable. If I’m talking to a casual movie-goer, I’ll generally say my favorite film is “Raging Bull”. But that’s not even my second favorite film. It’s the one that says, “I’m sort of a serious movie fan, and I want you to know that, but I don’t want to seem so pretentious and douche-y that you don’t talk to me, especially about movies, because I love talking about movies, what’s your favorite movie? Tommy Boy? That’s awesome! I love Tommy Boy! It’s funny, that was one of those movies that I didn’t see until like 10 years after it came out, and everyone would quote it, and I would only sort of know what people were talking about…” You generally don’t have that conversation if people think your head is too far up your own artsy-fartsy ass.
“Found footage doesn’t work often for me. The thing that made Blair Witch great was it was so genuine. You can’t get more immersive than found footage, it’s 100% POV. The characters have to really live within their setting, and I felt that happened with Cloverfield.”
I agree about found footage. I enjoyed both Cloverfield and Blair Witch, but I think they share a flaw in that they rely on characters making theatrically bad choices. In Cloverfield, that was not evacuating. Despite multiple opportunities.I find myself thinking “You know, it would be refreshing to see a horror movie where people make good choices and follow the directions of emergency services personnel.”Like in Cloverfield, Rob not only gets himself killed trying to save Beth. He gets Hawk and Marlena killed too. And Beth dies anyway. So what was the point? (And how would you feel if you were Beth and the person you love got killed — and got two other people killed — trying to save you? Admittedly, you wouldn’t have to feel lit long. But that would be a crappy thing to be feeling as you died.)That was another thing that didn’t make sense to me. Lily survives because she’s shuffled onto the helicopter that only have room for one person (and you gotta have a final girl). But in that situation, you’d put Beth on the helicopter because she’s the one who was seriously injured and in most urgent need of medical care. (Of course this is horror movie universe where, after you’ve spent hours impaled on a piece of rebar and people lift you off of it, you don’t start massively bleeding through the huge hole in your torso and you have plenty of energy to scramble across collapsing buildings and dash around Central Park dodging missiles and skyscraper sized aliens.)
But then I find myself thinking, maybe that’s part of the thing we enjoy about horror movies. It’s watching people make bad choices and do stupid things, and it makes us feel safe because if it were *us*, we would make better choices. We would survive the alien invasion because *we* would follow the evacuation procedures. The witch wouldn’t get us because *we* wouldn’t have a temper tantrum and chuck our map in the river. We wouldn’t be massacred by the supernatural franchise killer because *we*wouldn’t go down into the creepy basement (in our nighties) to investigate the strange thumping.
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I find it hard to talk about this movie in found-footage terms, because, I feel like with Blair Witch and similar films, the camera work is pretty basic, whereas Cloverfield is almost like war reporting. I am assuming that every blurry tracking shot was carefully choreographed to be found-footage-like, but it puts a lot more pressure on the cast and crew, and also relies on sound to do a lot of heavy lifting.
So rather than just jumping straight into the film I want to start off by talking about how the basic concept is one of my favourites. There is an episode in series 3 of Buffy called the Zeppo which focuses on Xander dealing with a zombie school bully. This may have been its own episode in season 1 but as the show hit peak in season 3 its placed against the backdrop of the apocalypse which all the other characters are fighting just out of shot and it’s one of the best Buffy episodes. There is a Babylon 5 episode which takes place from the perspective two janitors, which is not as good, but intriguing; and I think there is a play by Tom Stoppard called Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead which is Hamlet but from the perspective of two minor characters, but I haven’t seen it.
This is differentiated from the Throne of Blood/R2D2 and C3PO conceit because those characters although low status are largely present for the major events. Instead the Cloverfield model, which I think feels more “authentic” is that we are all just witnesses, catching glimpses of larger events. There should be more films where the main characters aren’t central to the “movie”.
By the “movie” I think there is a hole in the universe where the Michael Bay’s Cloverfield would live. In this Cloverfield The Rock not only solves the Cloverfield mystery but works out how to kill the monster with the help of a plucky wisecracking sidekick (meta: that sidekick is also played by TJ Miller) while swinging from a helicopter, probably the monster killed his girlfriend too. Now that film would be highly forgettable because that is the plot of a video game. Although if I may say it is rarely the plot of a movie. The characters in Jurassic Park don’t defeat the raptors; King Kong is the goodie; and Godzilla is pretty much invincible. But you still have actual protagonists in those films who do more than just run away aimlessly, plus the camera doesn’t pull focus from the main monsters in an infuriatingly jerky way.
One last variation is in the video game Final Fantasy 7 where the “goodies” go to defeat the big bad early on, the big bad being Shinra the megacorp sucking up the world’s resources. But they fail miserably and are imprisoned. Then TWIST, while the protagonist are just sitting around twiddling their thumbs, the real big bad shows up and destroys the entire operation leaving a trail of blood for the goodies to wander through, horrified at the slaughter they themselves would have left had they not been so incompetent. I really liked this sort of plot. The original characters weren’t the main protagonists, they were a complete sideshow to a much bigger story, and didn’t even realise it.
Cloverfield’s mystery gives me some of that juice, because the main story is a straightforward disaster movie. You could have told it with an earthquake or Tsunami and not had to do many reshoots. It’s the glimpses of the monster, the invincible monster which also breeds deadly parasites. Is it an alien? Is it Cthulhu? Is it a jilted girlfriend who ate too much Slusho (probably not because she was asleep on the couch apparently). Hopefully we’ll never know.
To flip things over: In Raiders of the Lost Ark the US government put a lot of faith in the fighting-skills of an archaeology professor. What if they, sensibly, sent in another team who was always 10 steps behind Indiana and the Nazi’s. They can see shit kicking off just over the horizon, they end up, after finding the map room, the pit of snakes, the decapitated German soldier, and a continent wide trail of destruction, seeing a strange lightning storm in the distance, now exhausted, stumbling across a valley covered in melted corpses, they find a man and a woman tied to a rock: what the fuck happened here they ask?
Its why I find it impossible to say what my favourite film is, because the untold stories are the best – what the fuck did Leon get up to make him such a badass? What is happening on those offworld colonies? Who was the Space Jockey and how did he get there?
Fourth wall breaking is also entirely from my how-to-make-films philosophy. Yes Hud is annoying, and probably more of a symptom of the director not having faith in the brilliant sound design, but I like the idea of an ongoing dialogue with the cameraman. The viewer knows they would also be terrified and confused and insignificant. One phenomenon of 9/11 (and to a lesser extent 7/7) was the individual stories of people who really had nothing to do with the events themselves but the ubiquity of the coverage, plus the scale meant that it was easy to find a connection. We all know someone who had been in New York a week earlier or was going in a week, or had had a business trip cancelled, or whatever. What the ground level perspective of Cloverfield shows is that even if you are right there on the ground, you still really have nothing to do with these sort of mega-events, as far as the monster is concerned the main characters are ants. To put it another way, if you’ve recently been attacked by skyscraper sized dinosaur don’t go thinking you’re special.
The main scene I love about this movie is the exploding girl. Now I don’t know why I love this bit, but I’m worried to think it’s the arbitrary cruelty. She’s set up as the viewers’ love interest (we’re all Hud trying to chat up the grumpy girl at the party) and she is not given a heroic death. She is just brutally dispatched (in what is supposed to the calm bit of the film surrounded by military and doctors) and all you are left with is that bloated shape imprinted on your retina before the camera unsentimentally moves on. This scene makes a clear statement – “We weren’t joking around on the bridge, these people you are rooting are expendable – this is a horror film, so it’s horrible deaths all the way, brace yourselves.” What’s also interesting is the medic who yells “we’ve got a bite” which means she’s already seen a few exploding girls already that evening. Very nice way to scale the threat. But I don’t think the movie ever really recovers from this stand-out moment.
Yes the third act is very neat, but it misses the opportunity for escalation which would have turned it into a legendary piece of cinema. This doesn’t mean more monsters, or bigger threats, but for example Alien could have ended on a down note with no resolution, but instead it manufactures an amazing ending. Paying off its tension with a MORE tension.
Cloverfield doesn’t fulfil that rollercoaster ride in the same way. I feel like they bottled it, and I think they know they did, hence the endings of the other 2 movies which feel like a set up for Cloverfield: Infinity War. It’s a weakness in the main concept, where you have purposefully unheroic, uncharismatic characters, who are constantly on the fringes of the action and whose lives and motivations are deliberately bland, which means you have to give the audience the chills in some other way. I guess the film makers were thinking “well we gave you a really good view of the monster just before he ate Hud, isn’t that what we have been teasing you with all this time, wasn’t that the money shot?” And the answer is: “I guess not, the monster which decapitated the Statue of Liberty and chewed up artillery was scary, what you’ve just showed me is some sort of monkey dinosaur thing, why should I be scared of that? So you killed Hud, but you made him deliberately annoying and once you exploded his girlfriend he had nothing to live for anyway, why am I supposed to be sad he died again.” Much like this essay, the film ends with an unsatisfying pay off.
So this is how I feel about Cloverfield. Apologies for length.
I think there is a hole in the universe where the Michael Bay’s Cloverfield would live.
Michael Bay’s Cloverfield would be Independence Day, basically.
I agree with what you’re saying about one of the strengths of Cloverfield being the characters it chooses to focus on, not even secondary in the scale of the story they’re participating in. In Michael Bay’s Cloverfield, Marlena would be “exploding girl #3” if she even merited the credit.
It’s the same with 10 Cloverfield Lane. Michelle’s story, in the scope of the greater events unfolding, is trivial. And the ending was the weakest part of the film, but I guess there’s also the question of what do you do when you escape from a psychopath’s murder bunker just to find out he was telling the truth about the world being invaded by aliens?
I think found footage lends itself to telling stories about those kinds of characters. Even moreso now. Blair Witch still required the conceit that these people were student flimmakers to justify why they were out in the forest with cameras. Cloverfield still nodded to that need, when Rob (I think) asked Hud (I mixed up his name in my last post I think) why he still had the camera and he said something like “People are going to want to know what happened” but even in 2008 I don’t think that explanation was necessary. Just look at the number of shots where people have their phones out, aimed at the action. And in 2018 it would be weird if people didn’t film it, we all document everything, and live like we’re the stars of our own reality shows.
(Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is also a film, and a good one imo. 🙂
And just to sweeten the pot, it’s Tim Roth and Gary Oldman as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in the film, and as you can expect they are wonderful!
To all to missed it in cinema, or if you want to see it in cinema again, the PCC is screening it May and for a cheap price!!!
So, I have two responses to Cloverfield. The first is to look at it as both a trailhead for the second age of genre fiction and one of the defining monster movies in the West in the 21st century. In fact, along with 10 Cloverfield Lane (MUCH better) and The Cloverfield Paradox (Chris O’Dowd shouts at his arm!) it sets up a Tales from the Crypt-esque movie universe that I cannot wait to see the next instalment of.
The second response is to go ‘HURRRRAYYYYY!and watch the thing from the start all over again. I have in fact seen this enough times now that I can map the film’s high and low points and talk you through them. Like a commentary but MS Paint-ier. Join me!
Scary Military Text
Few things make me sit up and pay attention more than grim looking military text that basically says ‘Shit went very sideways. Here’s what we know.’ Cloverfield has the platonic ideal of that.
I’m being a little cruel here especially as the interaction between Lily and Jason (Referred to as The NotRob in my notes) is actually really fun. I love the fact that as they’re giving each other shit leaving the bodega, the guy behind the counter’s cracking up. It’s a lovely little detail that really grounds the reality of the movie. See also, the older couple running from the monster later. This isn’t an empty CGI back lot. This is a neighbourhood. With people in it who you recognize.
But the truth is for about ten minutes, this is a Friends episode. An unusually self involved one at that with Rob as Ross, Hud as Joey and the NotRob as late run, very together designated adult Chandler. It’s one of the genius parts of the movie, the fact that we recognize these people, have been to versions of this party and yet kind of hate them.
Which makes us feel both joyful and really unsettled when they start dropping like flies in about…five minutes time.
(Fun fact fact fans! Theo Rossi who would go on to be a vital part of Sons of Anarchy and Luke Cage is one of the dudes at the party)
WITH A KAIJU!
From the moment the ‘earthquake’ hits to the moment the ruined head of the Statue of Liberty lands outside their building. this is perfect horror cinema. The POV camera, on the ground location and untidy human responses all mean you’re absolutely in lockstep with the characters. You have NO idea what’s going on. Neither do they and their varied responses tell us everything about them. Hud finds distance behind the camera, Rob fixates on Beth, Lily and the NotRob (Jason SORRY Jason) focus on Marlena.
And Marlena has seen more than we have. And it’s almost broken her. That horror of something vast and terrible passing nearby, that’s so perfectly embodied at the end of The Mist is very much present here too.
If these 5 minutes are perfect then the next 15 minutes or so never get less than good. The dialogue in the tunnels is some of the movie’s best, and I love that Marlena is skewering (in this case well intentioned) nerdbros a good few years before it became an essential practice.
Plus the reveal on the mites hanging from the ceiling? Thats what found footage can do when it works. And it works brilliantly here. Simultaneously putting you at distance but denying you that distance. The fight itself is untidy, frantic and brutal and never fails to make me wince. Especially Lizzy Caplan who sells that bite like an absolute champ. There’s no Hollywood fightnoise here, just someone screaming in pain as something awful tries enthusiaticlaly to eat her.
Oh Marlena. Far and away the most interesting character in the movie (Why is she so sad at the party?) goes out in the most interesting, and gross way.
It’s a credit to Cloverfield that a scene that, were it on flash cards, would read ‘MARLENA ASPLODE’, is truly horrific. There’s a real sense of the military pushed past breaking point, of something terrible just.keeping.happening because they’ve seen this happen BEFORE. People have been exploding all night and their horror (‘Bite! WE’VE GOT A BITE!!!’) gives you a subtle escalation to go with the shots of the honking great death newt we’ve had by now.
Plus, as scriptwriter Drew Goddard pointed out, this scene is also where the film briefly touches on the ghost of an an earlier version of itself. There was apparently dialogue between a stereotypical beefcake, a female scientist and a grizzled old soldier included in every draft until shooting. It was a lovely moment that made it overt Cloverfield, like Signs, happens to the left of normal sort of movie of this genre. But it completely broke the tone so, ultimately didn’t make the cut.
Oh Hey, Rob and Beth are back together, yaaaaaayyy
Rob is never more awful than he is here. To his credit, he knows it too and Michael Stahl-David does a great job of selling his simultaneous grie and ‘well…my girlfriend is still out there…’ which would play far more nicely if EVERYONE ELSE IN THE PARTY HAD NOT JUST LOST SOMEONE IMPORTANT TO THEM, ROB, JESUS.
Nonetheless this is as close to dull as the movie gets. The ascent in the tower is fun, and the reveal on the monster is nicely handled but it’s all a little rushed and, at the same time, not quite fast enough.
The first time I saw this movie I was convinced Lily would look plaintively back at her buddies and then…TANK MEET HELICOPTER. Because that’s what almost always happens, and if a black character doesn’t die needlessly, then a female one will instead odds are.
Not this time.
Ross, Rachel and Joey board their liberty chopper and in some beautifully realized grey dawn light we get a good look at the monster as it is well and truly messed up by a B2. And then…takes their chopper down instead! Good work, Cloverfield!
Oh, Joey. I like Hud, I think he’s an unusually successful average dude character. But it’s impossible not to be just a little happy when he gets very, very killed.
Especially as that leads to the gut punch that hid so well up this point; with the exception of Lily, none of these folks get out alive. Rob and Beth, still kind of awful, get a sweet romantic moment together at the end of the world and after a movie that never stops escalating after that Statue of Liberty touchdown, suddenly it just…stops.
OR DOES IT?
Well, no. Firstly there’s some evidence Rob is still alive at the very least and secondly the final shot from the Coney Island trailer shows something, apparently the monster, crashing down from orbit. More interesting though is…
Michael Giacchino, 10th dan black belt in Dad Joke titles, delivers an entire score in one credit sequence. ‘Roar’ (Cloverfield Overture) contains the love theme, the monster theme and every moment of escalating, gleeful drama. It’s an amazing way to round the movie off and leaves with the roar of the monster in our ears, even down to the retreating footsteps as it walks away.
But the best monsters come back. And this is one of the very best. See it, see 10 Cloverfield Lane and see The Cloverfield Paradox. Because they’re smart, and weird and grim. Because they (kind of) all tie together and most of all because this series is inventive, fun, mildly gonzo science fiction horror and this first instalment remains one of the very best.
Oh Hey, Rob and Beth are back together, yaaaaaayyy
Rob is never more awful than he is here. To his credit, he knows it too and Michael Stahl-David does a great job of selling his simultaneous grie and ‘well…my girlfriend is still out there…’ which would play far more nicely if EVERYONE ELSE IN THE PARTY HAD NOT JUST LOST SOMEONE IMPORTANT TO THEM, ROB, JESUS.
This is the point where the movie needs to remind us that it’s still a Friend’s episode WITH A KAIJU! Rob is pretty awful all the way through. (And Beth is kind of pathetic.) But Beth isn’t his girlfriend. The setup for this “relationship” at the Friend’s episode party is winceworthy. Rob’s getting ready to leave the country, so he sleeps with a friend who has feelings for him, and then ghosts her. (And when she shows up at his going away party with a date, he’s a dick.)
That does not make Beth, by any metric other than Rob’s douche bro imagination, his girlfriend.
But at the same time, Rob’s absolute insensitivity to everyone else’s emotional state or even physical safety is so in keeping with the self-centeredness of this character. It feels authentic. Rob just lost his brother too, and how would someone like Rob cope with that, and that situation? Rules don’t apply to Rob, evacuation procedures don’t apply to Rob, Rob’s got the emotional maturity of a banana slug. It’s all about Rob. Of *course* he thinks of himself as the action movie hero in this script.
Though it wasn’t until the end of the movie that I realized that the people who had gone to Coney Island and were on the video Hud was taping over were Rob and Beth, not Jason and Lily. (In my defense, they all look alike.) So maybe if I had understood that from the beginning my opinion of Rob’s character would be different. But I doubt it.
Also… nice graph!
Replying to the question Joel asked: “What’s your favourite movie?”
I’ve thought about this pretty hard, reading too much into the question maybe. But I’m going with the 1995 post-apocalyptic classic Tank Girl.
Which, I’ve been informed, is one of the worst movies OF ALL TIME. But the person who said that *ahem Joel* is objectively wrong because Malcolm McDowell is in Tank Girl and it is not possible for any movie with Malcolm McDowell to be one of the worst movies of all time. (This law also applies to Rutger Hauer and Willem Dafoe. Don’t ask me why; it’s like gravity or special relativity or CERN creating the zombie apocalypse. It just *is*.)
As to what I think that says about me, I think it says I have excellent taste in movies and I would totally trust me to choose what movie we’re watching on movie night.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern also has Richard Dreyfuss as the the Player, which I had totally forgotten. (Watched it the other night after it came up in discussion.)
And it should not be confused with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead, which is a totally different film and features the Karate Kid as an actress’s mafioso boyfriend.
So. Let me try and get into some of the reasons why I love this big stupid dumb film so much. Why it’s my favourite. Why I feel like it deserves you know – serious consideration and all that.
In a word I think it’s because it’s the most realistic film I’ve ever seen. But we’ll come to that in a bit…
First of can I just say: wow. I mean: at the time I first saw it (all the way back in the ye olde accident times of 2008) I was full of sound and fury about how it was basically one of the best things I’ve ever seen and the film of the decade – “An Important Work!” (whatever that means) and then suffered the slings and arrows of my peers as they resoundingly mocked me. So picked it as a film for the Film Club I was expecting at worst notes of derision and at best: bored disinterested silence with a few stray comments of: “which one is that again?”
So yeah: wow. Reading everything that everyone has written so far. I don’t know… It kinda gives me hope you know? Like maybe it’s appeal spread wider than I realised? Like you know: maybe the future isn’t just going to be disagreeing with anyone… Maybe my tastes and sensibilities can gain popular widespread appeal which would be really cool mostly because it would hopefully mean there being more films out there that I like…
Altho: that kinda raises the question of how exactly could you make another film like Cloverfield? Because the word that kept bouncing around my head as I rewatched it tonight was (and yeah ok this is a little cheesy I know but whatever): “singular.”
I mean yeah “Godzilla” and “The Blair Witch Project” are the two oh-so-obvious parents – but apart from The-Giant-Monster-Ness of Godzilla and the We’re-Recording-This-As-We-Go-Along-Ness of Blair Witch it’s not really like either of them. As has already been remarked up – Godzilla is macro and Cloverfield is mirco. And Blair Witch is a rural horror film while Cloverfield is urban sci-fi so you know: different genres right? (unless you think maybe that found footage is a genre…. which I dunno – seems debatable to me….).
But I don’t know – I think because Cloverfield doesn’t scan as obviously “serious” so much of the cool stuff it does has been over-looked. I mean: yeah. There are no big name serious actors (altho – hell: is that Silicon Valley’s Ron LaFlamme as Beth’s obviously smarmy new bfriend? Ha! Cool); it’s about a giant monster destroying New York so it’s obviously genre and you know: theme-wise it’s not really about anything. It’s just a rollercoaster etc. But ticking off the boxes like that I think undersells much of what’s actually kinda avant garde / experimental about it… I mean: first up – apart from Michael Giacchino’s Roar which plays over the credits: this is an action film without a soundtrack. Which erm is pretty audacious to say the least (altho: I think there’s a very sneaky use of a kinda slow building high pitched whine that plays in the “Night Vision / Sewer Fight” scene that you don’t really even notice until it cuts out when they finally manage to close that door).
Then there’s the cinematography which is just flat-out completely amazing and makes me want to print off the individual frames and hang them on my wall (or second best: fill this entire email with pictures from the film: but am trying my best to resist that urge). I mean yeah the whole thing with people getting motion sickness and whatever completely overlooks the tightrope act that the film has to walk where on the one hand you know it’s all filmed from the perspective of someone who’s never even held a camera before and on the other hand: you have to be able to tell what’s going on in each shot. Which hell could have been a complete disaster – but instead they manage to go even further than that and here are there are these shots that manage to communicate even more and summon up a strange kinda beauty.
That scene in the subway station just after Rob has just spoken to his mum about his brother dying and Hud is fretting to Marlena about not knowing what to say – the film does this:
I mean: just to have Rob’s face hidden behind the poster would be enough – but juxtaposed with the Nokia advert behind it. I mean: there’s something about it that I find really longing (if that’s the right word). And you know: all the usual stuff about how we never really know each other and that even tho Hud is like Rob’s “main dude” – there’s this gap that exists between them… And fuck: I feel like the whole film is sprinkled with tiny little moments like this pretty much all of which make me sit up and go “wow.” Like watching a Fast and Furious movie that takes the time to have a five second shot of a pretty flower or something…
When Rob finally gets the phone to work and hear’s Beth’s voicemail. And the whole film stops and all of the buzzing and commotion dies down (they’re in a shop that’s being looted remember) and everything focuses in on his face to such an extent that you can actually hear Beth’s voice on the other end of the line: like you’re sharing Rob’s heightened perceptions… (This one I’ll admit makes more sense when you’re watching it in context and you have everything that comes before plus all the sound and everything. But hell – I guess that’s why it’s a movie and not just a bunch of static shots – sorry La Jetée).
Also: some of the shots are just kinda beautiful and do something to me in a way that I’m not sure I can (or even want to) quite explain…
Or that final bit in the park aka Incident Site U.S. 447 when you have all this going on:
Crash site. The world lying on it’s side. Torn up helicopter blade. Foreground with everyone doing their best to fix Rob and in the background the city and the fighter jets rocketing overhead in a desperate attempt to stop the monster…
Then – once they get him up: they do the cowboys walking into the sunset shot (but with a modern twist: instead of bright yellow sunrise and desert it’s grey overcast New Yorkness – like they took the iconography and put it through a colour filter or something). Hobbled but victorious (they’re still alive!!) and just for a second you find yourself thinking… Oh my god. This is it. Maybe they get to survive after all. Maybe they’re actually going to manage to make it out of there… (happy face emoji)
And then of course of course of course (with that awful inevitable sinking feeling) Hud does the whole – never leave a man behind bit – the man in this case being us the audience – which creates this super-weird but cool contradiction inside our heads: where on the one hand – we want our heroes to escape and live to fight another day: but the other hand we want to go with them… So that when we see Hud lurch back we’re half relieved (we’re saved!) and half not (they’re doomed!).
And then (yeah) we have awful long special effects shot of the monster. And awful not as in: you feel bad for Hud facing the beast – but awful as in: you feel bad for the people who made this putting it into the movie and bad for anyone watching it (yourself included). The Lesson of Popcorn Cinema of the past 100 Years of course being: NEVER SHOW THE MONSTER GUYS. I mean: come on now: haven’t you seen Jaws? Don’t you even realise what kind of film it is you’re making here? Shesh.
(Rolling eyes emoji)
That may be the only harsh thing that I can say about this movie tho. I’ll also allow that maybe it’s not the wokest thing in the world that it looks like all the looters are black guys…
But fuck all of that isn’t even the main thing I wanted to talk about: you know the thing that I feel makes Cloverfield so singular… Namely of all the films that I’ve ever seen Cloverfield is the film that is the most (yeah here we go)… realistic.
Now. I realise that that might be a bizarre thing to say about a film about a giant monster tearing apart New York and tanks and guns and explosions and such as opposed to whatever thing that’s around that’s about sad posh people having an affair and being depressed or whatever… But thinking that way confuses what about a story is about with the way it’s told: and it’s the way that it’s told that excites me the most and it’s the one I want to concentrate on… Because yeah altho I get that for a lot of people the whole found footage-ness leaves them cold – I have to admit that it’s the part of Cloverfield that I love the most. I mean: this isn’t exactly a revolutionary insight or anything: but most of what people think of as being “realistic” in movies or books or whatever is just a matter of convention. For various reasons certain markers and tricks and conventions get coded as “realistic” and certain other don’t. For example most people think that long interrupted cuts in films are “realistic” and lots of quick Michael Bay cuts aren’t (there’s a great post here by A D Jameson that I would heartily recommend: What Mise-en-scène Is and Why It Matters that you should all go and read). And so yeah maybe I’m just falling into that – but then again maybe not? Because here’s the thing – if you watch Cloverfield and then go and watch some ultra slow and boring sad posh people film that oh-so-very serious there’s something that will become very apparent – in the “realistic” film the camera is an invisible observer that no one pays attention to – and in Cloverfield: it’s an active part of the action. It’s a thing that’s rocked and dropped and spoken directly and spoken around. You don’t know what it looks like – but you’re aware of it being a physical object. Which to me – makes all the difference in the world as is the reason why I love Cloverfield so much and why I have no hesitation saying it’s so realistic.
And then the thing that pushes it over the top (because yeah: I guess maybe you could say the same thing about all other found footage films right?): is that it’s not all the camera which is treated like a physical object – but with the Rob and Beth April 27th Coney Island day-trip footage it just kinda pushes it to another level: because then you’re aware of the tape being a physical object too which just makes me want to go all mindblown.gif
ADDED PLUS: the opening title cards
It’s like reading a book where the first words are: “This is a book. These are words printed on a page.” And obviously other people’s perspectives may differ – but for me it changes the whole experience of watching the film – by changing how I think of what I’m looking at. With pretty much every other film – the film I’m watching is a god’s eye disembodied view of the world: but watching Cloverfield I’m aware that I’m watching an object with a history. Something that started out as something to work as a goodbye testimonial but that ended up as – ha – a goodbye testimonial that is now property of the U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE and that exists in a world where Central Park no longer exists… (SUCH A GREAT BIT OF FILM-MAKING because not only does it do the whole “you’re watching an object” thing: it’s also a great bit of world-building and foreshadowing plus tone-setting: as it makes you hyper-aware that you’re about to watch something set in a world where something VERY BAD HAS HAPPENED which is exactly the kind of thing that makes me grab my popcorn and lean in closer to the screen).
And that’s to say something about the actual aesthetic of the whole thing. Like I already mentioned Autechre right at the start – and surely I can’t be the only one that gets serious Warp Record vibes from this movie? You know: the idea that glitches and digital scratches can be a thing of beauty? (TRUE FACT: The best bit of Michael Giacchino’s Roar is the opening where it’s just static hisses and buzzes like a strange busted machine: and the work of Chris Cunningham excepted – Cloverfield is the only film I’ve seen that gets close to that oh so haunting delicious glitchy ineffable (rubs fingers together)… thing).
Whoops. We’re almost out of time I know – but there’s a few more things that I wanted to get down (actually my head is filled with like another hundred or so things – but as tempting as it might be: I really can’t be sitting here writing about Cloverfield all day….).
Like: so far I’ve managed to touch a little on it’s music and cinematography and ontological status and whatever: but I realise that’s all maybe a little dry. An intellectual exercise. “Here are the objective reasons why you too should think that Cloverfield is a Good. Film.” But thinking it over a bit more (and in case isn’t obvious: I’ve been thinking about this stuff a lot). I’ve realised that if I dig a little deeper that there some maybe more personal reasons why this film made such an impact on me… (Apologies if this is a little self-indulgent and please feel free to look away / skip to the end).
I think that I was probably at the perfect age when Cloverfield first came out. I’d just finished university and was living with my best friends in a cool trendy London flat. Like: obviously – all the people in Cloverfield were way way richer and more successful than me (I don’t think there’s such a thing as Vice President of Temping): but still – big raucous house parties was a thing that I knew and recognised (hell: I think I could even name every song playing in the background). So when the house party first starts up in the film – it’s like: oh. Here is a thing that I know. Here’s a thing that I’ve experienced (and I’m still experiencing). So you know: there’s that connection there.
But still: I remember the first time I watched the film and it was doing all the establishing stuff – my butt was getting itchy and I was getting a little impatient. I mean: hell – it opens up with this sexy couple waking up in a flat that fucking overlooks Central Park (ok yeah – it belongs to her Dad but still: this is a lifestyle way beyond anything that I could imagine as a working class London kid – you know?). So even in the first 5 minutes my brain was going: when are they gonna get to the fireworks factory? You know: BRING ON THE MONSTERS ALREADY. This smarmy good-looking fucker is going to be Vice-President of some big company in Japan? Oh god / oh good – I can’t wait to watch him die horribly… I hope the monster eats his face first.
And then – shit. The Beth stuff happens. She shows up with another guy. He doesn’t know what to say or how to act. He just sits there and the party keeps on going around him. And BAM: I felt like I’d been hit in the gut.
Like: I’m sure Michael Stahl-David is a good actor or whatever (tbh – most acting looks the same to me): but fuck man – I mean: (brief background) back then I was still in love with this person who lived in another city and who I knew had just started dating this other guy: and so – all of these emotions just started bubbling to the surface. And hey: you all know how a good story works right? Suddenly – I was Rob and she was Beth: and all of my nerve endings stood up on tiptoe and the film just sucked me all the way in…
I mean: I don’t know if you’ve ever had the feeling of feeling low at a party. Of being surrounded by a bunch of people having a good time and they’re young and you’re young and you know you should just be going as crazy as possible: but not being able to lift the stone that’s sitting in the centre of your chest. I mean: that’s a pretty distinctive feeling right there. And this movie where I don’t think I was really expecting anything more than just monsters smashing up stuff was making me feel it.
And so when it cuts to that little summit on the fire escape I was completely and totally enveloped. The trailer campaign and the monsters and everything else in my life had disappeared and all that was in my consciousness was these guys talking. And I swear to god if the whole film had just been this I’m not sure if I would have minded…
“And you’re in love with her.”
“It’s not that simple.”
“No, it is that simple, Rob.”
“Come on, man. Don’t be scared. It’s about moments, man. That’s all that… You got to learn to say, “Forget the world,” and hang on to the people that you care about the most.”
And then BAM TIMES TWO there’s that roar and everything shakes and all the lights in the city wink out.
And I was all like: oh yeah – monsters.
Which is obviously the part where the film switches into fantasy mood and just becomes pure wish fulfilment and sunk it’s evil teeth even deeper into my brain… Because not to spoil anyone’s illusions: but in the version of Cloverfield where there is no monster – Rob might give Beth a call or something: but there’s obviously no way it’s going to work out. American and Japan are pretty far from each other (so I’ve heard). But instead: oh wow – it’s the end of the world and Rob is given a chance to PROVE HIS LOVE. To overcome a series of horrific obstacles by being pure at heart. And yeah yeah ok ok – so his brother, his best friend / main dude and some random girl at the party all have to die for it to take place – but fuck it: HE GETS THE GIRL (for about… 20 minutes or so before they die in what I can only presume is nuclear fire: buried under a pile of bricks).
So yeah. You know: favourite movie.
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