Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Movie Review: Cloverfield

"Cloverfield" is one of those movies everyone's talked about that somehow went clear over my head, so I finally decided to check it out last night.

Strictly on the level of plot, it's surprisingly similar to another movie I'd seen last month, "The Mist": in both films, something otherworldly comes out of the darkness and wreaks havoc, but the story works around the monster rather than be about the monster; the human element is where the true focus lies. I actually prefer this approach to monster-centric stories where the people are little more than cannon fodder, so that worked out nicely for me.

If "The Mist" demonstrates how horror can bring out the worst in humanity, I think "Cloverfield" delivers the opposite message - faced with a threat beyond comprehension, Rob's determination to save Beth is nothing less than heroic, and that plays a big part in the way the audience is swept up into the action.

The most controversial (and innovative) aspect of the movie is the way it was filmed: the entire narrative is presented to us in the form of a digital recording from a handheld camera, wielded by various characters throughout the movie. It's disconcerting to say the least, but highly effective, because it enables a handful of cinematic and narrative tricks that couldn't have been done otherwise. For example, since we're basically seeing through the cameraman's eyes, anything that happens to him disrupts our field of vision as though it were happening to us. That puts the viewer into the story in a way the traditional "omnipresent observer" never is. I also think that, because we're so closely linked to these characters, we sympathize with them despite the lack of characterizataion - going back to my discussion of "Torchwood" with kazekage, it's broadly possible to create ciphers you can care about, and "Cloverfield" does this quite well.

Another trick has to do with apparent damage the tape has sustained (foreshadowing the film's penultimate moments): on several occasions, the tape skips back to a recording of Rob and Beth from a month ago, creating a powerful contrast between the idyllic "good day" they shared and the hellish present that threatens to engulf them. It's rather clever.

I ultimately ended up liking "Cloverfield" very much; the gimmicks work much better than I expected, without overwhelming the movie.