Cloverfield – Wow.

That’s the text I sent to a friend of mine who has been waiting with bated breath to see this super-hyped release. Those of you who are FSR regulars or who stumbled across my most recent Boiling Point will know that I had mixed feelings going into this. I thought the hype would overwhelm me and as the lights dimmed, I was damned sure of it. A theater full of critics clapped as the film started – they had already written the reviews in their heads and loved it. I, on the other hand, had convinced myself the film would suck and had low expectations.

And my expectations were toppled. Bowled over. Destroyed. Annihilated. On the ride home I pondered what I would say. I knew I really enjoyed the movie. It wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t what I expected, especially tonally, but it struck the chords that I like listening to. There will be people out there who don’t like this movie. It is frenetic at times and those who don’t like the moving camera won’t be happy. There are plot holes and things that don’t make sense. But it’s a wild ride.

The film wraps itself up tidily in about 80 minutes or so, which is the perfect length. Any longer and I think it would have lost me, but it manages to keep up a strong pace for a good hour. Real credit goes to the sound designer, who manages to keep the tension up even while nothing is visibly happening. And of course, much praise to the man really responsible for this – Matt Reeves, director. He’s come out of TV Land and put up a sweet little film.

The story, obviously, revolves around a monster attacking Manhattan. It’s cranky as hell and big enough to topple buildings and crush tanks without a thought. The army is giving it all it’s got and it eats up every round with a roar. I’m going to avoid anything close to spoilers here, but will throw some stuff below. But the monster attacks and the friends attempt to leave the city. When one is left behind, they decide to go back for her.

Let’s break it down. Acting. T.J. Miller really glues this film together. He’ll be the character you either love or hate. There’s way more humor in the movie than I thought there would be, and virtually all of it comes from T.J. Full disclosure – I’ve met T.J. Miller a number of times and like him and think he’s hilarious, but in this movie he really does nail it. Though his character, Hud, is also mostly responsible for the shifts in tone that go from morose to jokey in a split second – I was ok with it, noted that it happened, but surely some will not enjoy the lightness during these parts, as they’re so sudden.

I don’t feel like anyone else is a real stand-out. They all do fine but aren’t, honestly, given much to do other than “act natural” in the beginning and run around scared as shit for the rest of the film.

Directing wise, the film looks great. Whatever hand-camera Hud is carrying, I want one, it looks brilliant and has a battery life of something like 12 hours. The action scenes are really well handled and the Army gets to fire off their big guns and it looks awesome. I wish there was more of this, but there’s enough to make me smile. Similar to Jaws (a big compliment) the score and the glimpses keep you satisfied until the big reveal. On a side note, the pictures of the monsters that someone painted, while awesome, aren’t really all that close, in my opinion.

The writing is alright, the script was ok, nothing really amazing or new. The dialog at times is a bit flat where they’re trying to be “really real” which doesn’t often work on film. The look of the monster is pretty cool. I’ll talk about it at the spoiler section. The CGI is good, but not great. The blending of the creature into the environment could have used some work.

All in all though, this is possibly the best disaster movie ever. Maybe not best monster movie, but the beginning is very disaster oriented once the action kicks off, and that was fun. We get some good kills, some blood, and a few jump scares. Horror and monster fans will get some stuff to look at, action fans get their piece, and there is even some character and drama. Often, though not always, the character moments seemed to fall flat, but before long the monster was smashing around again and the action was back on course.

The first twenty or so minutes are character building and the obligatory backstory, which is mostly out of the way once the Statue of Liberty gets uppercutted (no you don’t see what really happens). Hud is funny at the party as the lovable loser and everyone else is just a face to remember, to me. One thing that did bother me was that every single person there had a camera phone or something at every moment and instead of running or screaming, would take video.

I recommend Cloverfield to anyone interested, even those who think its over-hyped. I did. And it is over-hyped. It’s still good. I wouldn’t suggest going in expecting the rapture. It’s not new and exciting, it’s just exciting. It’s by far the best hand-held POV film I’ve seen, but hand-held POV films generally suck. It really is a mixture of Jaws, The Blair Witch Project, and Godzilla. It actually bears a lot of similarities to the American “reimagining” of Godzilla, but without the Doritos ads (It’s Nokia, this time) and less fish jokes, French men, and mini-Godzilli (Godzillas?). But to be fair to Cloverfield, it’s much better than that steaming pile of fish guts.

In conclusion, going into this thinking I’d hate it probably lowered my guard and let the monster swarm right past my artillery barrage (awesome scene!) and stomp on my car and knock the head of my Statue. It was a good fun monster romp that while having character, never got bogged down by it (for more than a minute or so) and was more along the lines of a good monster chase film than I expected. I definitely recommend going to see Cloverfield and enjoying the ride.

In fact, I’m going to say it one more time. Cloverfield is a great ride. It’s exciting. It’s enjoyable. It’s got a great chase vibe to it. I really had a blast watching it. Check it out.

Grade: A

The Upside: A fun, wild ride of a monster movie seen from the view of people on the ground.

The Downside: Over-hype will let some viewers down, and some of the CGI could have been a little tighter.

On the Side: The theme from Cloverfield is called “Roar!” and it’s really quite awesome.

SPOILER TERRITORY

The monster bears a good resemblance to a cross between images 1, 2, and 6. I feel like it was something of a cross between the giant Sea Monster from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, the Rancor from Return of the Jedi and a giant piranha. Oh, and throw in a dash of The Host. It was great to see from the air and its a very aquatic design that was pretty interesting. Yes, it does drop parasites off of itself, and they look like a cross between the Arachnids from Starship Troopers and the land Graboids from Tremors 2. They were fast and pretty vicious, and had a really cool action scene.

The monster is never really explained, which is good. You do get to see a couple of teasing glimpses first, but later you get a few good aerial shots and a pretty strong feel for what it looks like. At one point you get a good look at its face up close, which is interesting, piranha like and similar to image 6 linked to above. It looks a good bit better than the drawing, but it’d be good enough for a police sketch artist. There are lots of parasites, not just one or two.


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