Cloverfield is a 2008 monster film directed by Matt Reeves. Starring a cast of largely unknown actors, Cloverfield takes place in New York City, and follows a group of individuals attempting to escape the city after it is attacked by a large monster. Filmed entirely from a shaky-cam perspective, Cloverfield attempts to immerse the viewer, and tries to make them feel like they are one of the people within the city.
This shaky-cam technique of filming is one that can either work well or fail miserably. Cloverfield falls into the former category, being both immersive and genuinely frightening at times. What doesn’t quite work with this filming style was the fact that you don’t ever get to see many of the things that happen. This works great when it comes to keeping the monster’s true identity a secret, it is not appreciated when it comes to showing some of the actual action. For example, there is a scene in which the group is ambushed. Since the person holding the camera is being attacked as well, you don’t actually get to see all that much of the action. It also leaves me wondering why the person holding the camera is still filming everything that is happening.
The film answers this question by more or less sidestepping it. One line addresses it directly but, for the most part, it is avoided. For what it’s worth, the cameraman’s name is Hud, and he is played by T.J. Miller. For the most part, his voice is heard more frequently than any other character. The other main character is named Rob, and he is played by Michael Stahl-David. We learn near the beginning of the film that he is moving away to Japan, as he earned himself a job there. The people we meet throughout the party end up being the people we follow for the rest of the film.
Beginning the film in a party setting was actually a good way of lulling the viewer into a false sense of security. It actually takes a good 20 minutes before anything in the way of excitement happens. While it does become a bit tedious, it works as a good introduction to the other characters we end up hanging out with for another hour. That’s another thing that Cloverfield has working in its favor: it has excellent pacing. It certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome, clocking in just under 90 minutes. Take away 20 minutes for the opening, and the attempts to flee the city end up taking only around an hour. There really isn’t all that much wasted time, and every scene has some point to it.
In the short time Cloverfield is on the screen, it manages to do pretty much everything it needs to.
While characters don’t really develop all that much, they do so just enough to make the viewer care about them. This is likely due in part to the fact that all the actors in the film are virtually unknown. You don’t identify them to particular actors, and this helps draw you into the film, and care about the characters. Even if you don’t really know their names, you can still identify with what they are going through. There were, however, some moments when you are reminded that Cloverfield is still a movie.
The most prominent case of this is whenever something major happens. The word choice of the characters just doesn’t really seem all that natural. Nowadays, people use profanity fairly liberally. For some reason, the characters in Cloverfield don’t. I realize that this was done just so that it could get away with a PG-13 rating, but it does take away from the immersion of the film. The other thing breaking immersion is the shaky-cam work. This doesn’t occur all that often, but when it does, it gets fairly annoying. The camera jumps around fairly often, and turns off and on at seemingly random intervals. A character could be walking down the street, and then seconds later be in a building because they decided that it would be a good time to turn off the camera. Sure, it saves some time that would otherwise be wasted, but those times could definitely have been used for some more character building.
In the short time Cloverfield is on the screen, it manages to do pretty much everything it needs to. It is at times genuinely terrifying, and makes you feel for the characters. It doesn’t waste time, clocking in under 90 minutes, but it makes use of almost every second. The shaky-cam doesn’t usually break the immersion level, and the acting is quite good, especially because they actors are mostly a group of unknowns. While Cloverfield does try to pass itself off as a “found-footage” type of film, I still can’t help wondering the motivation of the cameraman Hud. Regardless, Cloverfield delivers an adrenaline packed thrill ride, which makes me really hope nothing decides to attack my city.
Conclusion: Cloverfield is a fun movie that we should hate for inspiring dozens of terrible copycats.
Recommendation: Unless you get nauseous with the shaky-cam gimmick, you should check out Cloverfield.