You’d think I would learn, but I do this to myself every time. This mission to catch up on all of the pop culture that I’ve missed has at least been educational, but sometimes, knowledge hurts. Everyone said it was bad and that I could skip it, but I had to see myself.
Thus, I find myself watching Cloverfield to see what the buzz is about. Sure, I’m late to the party, but I’m late to everything in life. No surprise there. Now people said that this movie was bad, but I’ve been known to like some things other people turn away from. So maybe its a hidden gem or something.
How did it fair?
The Short List
Despite what people might think, I believe the movie did at least a few things right. It’s not a terribly long list, but it’s fair to mention. Where Cloverfield succeeds is something other movies could learn from, but they shouldn’t look too long.
For one thing, from what I remember about high school (dear God I’m getting old), this movie ran a hyped ad campaign. There were shots of the Statue of Liberty missing a head and something moving among the city. Was it big? Was it something we could recognize, like Godzilla or King Kong? Could have been anything, and people had to scratch their heads. And the movie has a pretty solid premise, at least on paper. Found footage was nothing ground breaking even all the way back then. Blair Witch project was old enough to be Cloverfield’s mother, so found footage and horror were already best friends. But a found footage Kaiju flick? There was something to be said there, and there was the possibility of doing some interesting things. Plus, 9/11 was an old wound, but a fresh scar, and anything attacking New York City even now makes waves. To that end, the movie did a pretty great job of getting people hype.
Spoiler alert, the thing attacking the city is an alien monster. So that’s kind of a bummer, people were definitely expecting more. But I already knew that going into the movie, so there was nothing to disappoint there. What the movie continued to do well was take a hint from its PR campaign and be sparing about showing the creature, even when it had to. In horror, peoples’ imagination is often times more scary than what you’re scaring people with. That’s why games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent are so successful, the game lets you beat up your own psyche with what’s after you. As stated previously, the Washington Post thinks I’m a no good millennial, which might be true in some ways, one being that I’m desensitized to some things. The longer you look at a monster, the less frightening or impressive it becomes. Thus, only showing the monster in small moments allows us to make it bigger than it really is, more imposing and intimidating.
That was a solid idea, but were there any others?
The Long List
All things being said, this movie is a shivering, piss-stained garbage fire. Actually, that’s not a very good analogy. It’s a big heaping spoonful of bland predictability, like cardboard flavored yogurt. You can see every bite coming, and you know nothing good will come of it. Most importantly about Cloverfield, that colors everything else, is how easy it is to call every beat in the film. Every scene is easily predicted and leads easily into the next obvious thing the movie has to do, like some checklist it has to fill out. Bridge destruction, check. Military intervention, check. Baby monsters, check. Shaky cam, check. If there’s one thing you take away, its that the movie is a snore fest to get through.
But beyond that, the movie defies its own logic in ways that are impossible to ignore. Some things I could nitpick about, the fact that the beginning says the footage was found on an SD card, but they keep saying tape throughout the movie and it’s implied they’re recording over Rob and Beth’s date in April. That makes no sense, but if the rest of the movie was good, it would have been a minor thing. But it gets wrapped up with everything else that’s stupid, and every single scene has at least one thing to talk about. I’ll spare you going through frame by frame with a fine-toothed comb, but I think there are some notable parts we can bring up.
The character’s aren’t even interesting enough to be stereotypes, they’re just placeholders for cheap narrative tropes, so even the very beginning of the film is bullshit. It starts with Rob filming the night after he sleeps with Beth, which apparently is some big fucking deal to everyone but us, the audience, but whatever. We learn later that they’ve only slept together once, and he’s up filming her naked? Who the fuck lets that happen? I don’t know about anyone else, but that’s just kind of weird to me. The movie is looking to make us emotionally attached to the two of those characters, but there’s nothing likable about either of them. One rock next to a rock with makeup, take a hammer to one, and BAM, emotions. Its cheap and lazy.
Three weeks later, his brother has the camera with his girlfriend. Rob’s leaving for Japan for his job, and they’re throwing a going away party for him. The scene is pointless, since he doesn’t need to be filming, but the camera has to be on so the audience knows why there’s filming going on at all. Honestly, they could have just opened the movie with the testimonials and completely ignored the opening scene. Wouldn’t have fixed the movie, but it could have ended sooner and the beginning only pays off at the very end of the film.
He doesn’t want to film the testimonials, but keeps the camera rolling while he bitches to his girlfriend about filming. Yea, its pretty stupid and pointless. He pawns the job off on a guy named Hud, which is one of the worst decision any movie has ever made. I get that Hud is supposed to be a awkward, but Jesus Christ, every word out of his mouth made me want to cringe right into singularity. Since he controls the camera, we have to see what he does, and all he does is look at girls in a way only a socially inept neck beard can.
The best parts of the movie all involved the monster, and that’s not a good thing for a thriller suspense. If I’m rooting for all of the characters to die, that means you’re not doing characters right if the movie keeps telling me I should care about them. Phones stop working, but then suddenly work perfectly when the plot says they need to so we can get shit rolling. Beth is stuck in her apartment, and they have to go back and save her. Except they don’t, since her and Rob broke up a while ago and they could have easily got out and left her. Not that I’m suggesting people leave loved ones behind in times of crisis, but so far as we know from the movie, Rob and Beth have had sex once and had one date. Nothing you need to throw your life away over, but that’s just me. Sure, I would go back for Sam, but we’ve been together for 10 years, some shit is owed there. Rob should have got the fuck out when he could, but that’s none of my business.
But out of the very long list of stupid shit the movie does, I think making everyone hard of hearing was perhaps the worst choice. It just pulls you out of the movie when the narrative decides that audio is important again and something surprises them. They get stuck out in the middle of a firefight between the monster and the military, but it just suddenly happens. No one hears the tanks and gunfire behind them, its pretty quiet before it happens. No one hears the monster stomping around just a block in front of them, yet they can hear its roar and footfalls for mile? The fuck? Then again when they’re underground and come across the military outpost. They’re walking with some guys, and he pulls away the thin tarp separating the tunnel from the triage, and suddenly now we can hear people screaming and dying and nurses shouting and commanders barking orders. You would have heard that shit for miles underground, it echoes down there. How did no one know that was a thing?
Finally, when Hud finally dies (Thank fucking God), the monster literally just stands right on top of him, and they only realize it at like the last moment. Seriously? Its in central park, there aren’t even any buildings to hide behind. The monster has long arms, but it couldn’t take a mile-long-step or some bullshit.
And during all of these instances, Hud just keeps the camera rolling. I get that at the end of the day you have to make a movie here, but at any one of these moments, I feel as though someone would have just put the camera down so they could be human for a sec and try to survive. Fuck, even if you wanted that Pulitzer and wanted everyone to see what was going on, you could have put the camera down in a way that you could show what was going on, and then I wouldn’t have to get motion sick from the shaking camera the whole fucking movie. The baby monsters are attacking them in the tunnels (which is hilarious, by the way), and never once does Hud think to put down the camera and fucking help before they all get bitten. And, oh, what happens when you get bit, you might ask? Chest babies? Deadly Neurotoxin? Oh no, good sir, you fucking explode.
And its not even a great effect. You already know shit’s gonna happen to Marlena when she gets bit, and then she starts bleeding from everywhere and people start screaming, and I can’t help but think, “This is going to be good”. So they take her behind a screen that’s backlit, so you just see her silhouette, and then it blows up and blood covers the screen she’s behind.
But surely there must be a payoff, right? If we’re watching the footage, but the logic of the film, that must mean someone makes it out, right? Fuck no, that would be possibly good film making. And no, they don’t have to make it out alive, but it would have been nice if there was a better explanation as to how we got to take a look at the footage, something to engage us and help us believe that this actually happened in NYC like the movie so desperately wants to prove. The characters know that they’re going to level the city after 6 am to kill the thing, so we know its coming. And then explosions happen and they get covered and its just assumed they die and the camera gets covered in rubble, and I can’t help but think, “that’s a really study camera”. That little thing had enough battery to get through the whole movie while also falling from the full height of the monster to the ground with nothing to stop it, and then got carpet bombed and covered in debris. That’s pretty friggin convenient. If watching Patrick make movies or watching Casey Neistat has taught me anything, cameras are ridiculously fragile.
End of the movie is their date and you see something fall out of the sky into the water. If I just watched the very beginning and then that part with nothing else, it actually would have been an okay short film. Everything else is bullshit.
Skip it. I usually invite people to watch things and judge them for themselves, but I’m telling you now, there’s nothing worth seeing here. Just believe what everyone says, don’t waste your time. Or better, get drunk or stoned with some friends and then watch it, and maybe you can extract some joy out of tearing the movie apart in a group, that might be a good time. Otherwise, leave this shit at the bottom of the ocean, where it belongs.
For everything I didn’t cover, check out CinemaSins rip this thing up.