Posted: Mar-03-2015 at 7:36am
Cloverfield (2008) Rated "PG-13"
Starring Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David
Directed by Matt Reeves
Reviewed by Nicholas Ozment
I grew up watching Godzilla movies (still love 'em!), but not because they were even for a moment scary. No, by the time I was born the big radioactive lizard had long since devolved into self-parody. People like me watch Godzilla movies because it's amusing to see guys in rubber monster suits toss each other around while knocking down model skyscrapers and swatting toy airplanes.
But watching Cloverfield, I got a sense of what the Japanese filmmakers of the original 1954 Gojira were really trying to convey: The sheer horror of being caught in a wave of brutal, unstoppable, massive destruction?trapped in the epicenter, trying to cling to survival in the face of an event that reduces you to the scale of an ant?as a little boy brings his sneaker down on your anthill.
The problem with previous giant monster movies, even the most well done, is that the camera pans back and shows us the little boy stomping on the ants--the camera's omniscient POV turns it into a spectacle. Principal characters may be running around underfoot carrying out subplots, but for all intents and purposes it feels like they're in a different movie, inconsequential to the real action.
When Godzilla topples a building over, do we give a moment's thought to the imaginary people inside it? Cloverfield puts us inside the building. It sets us right down in the middle of the street to dodge falling debris and duck rifle shells as mobs flee in panic and the infantry rolls in. It does this, Blair Witch style, by giving one of our characters a camera coupled with the conviction that someone needs to document all this to the bitter end. Our main characters, six Manhattan twenty-somethings, react believably to the mounting horror, knowing as little as we do, capturing scraps of information from glimpses of news reports, overheard conversations of military personnel (who seem to be about as baffled as everyone else), and horrifying firsthand experience. Director Matt Reeves and his cast convey this exceedingly well, especially in the first third of the film, before we ever see the monster.
And yes, we do get to see the monster, notably in one up-close-and-personal shot near the end. But that scene felt almost gratuitous, and I would say unnecessary. Far more disturbing are the fleeting glimpses.
The tension of trying to find safety in a city that has become part natural disaster, part war zone is palpable, and the scene in the dark subway tunnels is a classic of the horror genre. The run-in with the CDC unit is a whole different kind of scary, and man, the film just delivers one virtuoso scene after another. Most importantly, though, for all this to be really effective, is that the characters are believable, and we develop a connection with them that is essential in horror films--we must be rooting for the protagonists for their peril to affect us and draw us in to their terror.
Perhaps Cloverfield manages to tap into some vestige of the terror of those first few hours after the 9/11 attacks, when it was obvious someone was unleashing death and destruction in the heart of America, but nobody seemed to have any idea who it was.
Post-Hiroshima Japan had Gojira. Post-9/11 America has Cloverfield. It's not just the first giant-monster movie that actually managed to terrify me. It's one of the scariest horror movies I've seen in a long time. And yeah, it's lots of fun.
P.S. Keep an eye on the skyline in that final little piece of footage filmed from the Ferris wheel.
Edited by Dave - Mar-03-2015 at 7:54am
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