One Bad Day
Last night, I sped off after work to Glorietta 4 to watch Cloverfield, the J.J. Abrams-produced 'Blair Witch meets Godzilla' film. As many probably already know, the whole movie is filmed from the perspective of a hand-held camera, putting you in the shoes of the cameraman as events transpire around, in front or behind him. This 'found footage' treatment establishes up front that the movie you are watching is some kind of classified military file discovered some time after the infamous event depicted in the movie. Interesting concept. But does an interesting concept translate well after all the hype for this mystery-cloaked movie?
Cloverfield is the story of a bunch of young adults in New York, who are unlucky enough to be there when SOMETHING- something huge and destructive and seemingly unstoppable, attacks the city. The first twenty or so minutes of the film is basically a first-person view of a going-away party which introduces and establishes the cast, which include main character Rob (Michael Stahl-David), who's on his way to Japan for a lucrative job; his brother, Jason (Michael Vogel), his best friend Hud (T.J. Miller), Jason's girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas) and Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), a guest at Rob's party whom Hud gets a crush on. Later, we meet Beth (Odette Yusman), a girl whom Rob has intense feelings for.
If you've seen the trailer, then you know what happens next. What appears to be an earthquake happens, and soon all hell breaks loose as explosions erupt miles away, hurling among other things the severed head of the Statue of Liberty right on the street in front of Rob's apartment. Clearly, it's not a case of just some earthquake. The city is under attack, and anyone with any bit of sense should be high-tailing it out of Ground Zero (the allusions to 9/11 are unavoidable).
Unfortunately, not all goes well as the easiest and closest way out is blocked, and Rob receives a disturbing message via his cellphone- a desperate plea for help from the woman he loves- Beth. Torn between primal fear and the urge to get to Beth, Rob goes against all reason and forays back INTO the city, dragging along his friends in a nightmarish, first-person experience as they enter a war zone where the military and the creature clash in deadly combat.
So what can I say? I watched, or at least tried to watch this flick, intrigued by the premise and the concept. But there is one big factor that detracts a lot from my enjoyment. As with The Blair Witch Project, the hand-held nature of the film makes for a very haphazard visual experience- at best the view is kinda-sorta stable but usually distended or askew. At worst, there are stretches of the film that are goddamn vertigo-inducing and unwatchable. WHY oh WHY does Rob's camera- while having perhaps one of the strongest and longest-lasting batteries ever AND nightvision, lack any Anti-Shaky Cam technology? I swear, there are a lot of scenes that could have been more enjoyable if they were a tad bit more discernable. After a bit, you don't get full scenes in this film- just scraps of images or random views. It's like some fever dream with flashes. Interesting and different, but also unpleasant.
That is my main gripe of the film (which is unfortunately a big part). Other factors actually pleased me. The story is fine, though I have to say I would have preferred a less bleak ending. I mean, after all that, I demand pay-off. A downbeat ending leaves people with sour tastes or an unfinished vibe, and kinda kills any urge for repeat viewings (especially in the case of this movie, which I doubly do not want to see because of the shaky cam).
The cast of unknown actors is both talented and damn pretty, and generally likeable. I have to say that Odette Yusman's Beth is radiant- Man, if I were Rob, I'd go back for her too. Hud, the man with the cam, is funny and gets to mouth off quite a few memorable lines which give a bit of comedy to the grim events. For the most part, at least, you care what happens for these gorgeous New Yorkers, instead of rooting for the monster(s) like in other films. And yeah- Blair Witch Project? This is Blair Witch with a HUGE budget, and the effects and atmosphere are convincing as hell (if only it had more clarity). The Cloverfield Monster is indeed a beast of mammoth proportions, and it's "Mini-Me's" are memorable adversaries as well. Certainly the best parts are where you actually see the thing, which are kinda few and far between but always pleasing. There IS a point in the film where the whole thing is finally unveiled, but you'll just have to soldier on to see it. It's worth it, anyway.
There are some wild leaps though. How can a freakin' monster as big as a skyscraper sneak up on you? Do these characters have an 'attract monster' signal on them or something? And what the heck is up with the title, anyway? I kinda missed that.
Cloverfield would make for an incredible Theme Park ride. Or an awesome Survival Horror game. But as a movie, it's kinda hit-and-miss due to the nature of it's concept as found footage. You do easily accept the otherwise ridiculous way that Hud continues to film on and on despite the chaos all around him, but I just wish that they took a wee bit more license and smoothened out some of the film's rougher parts. If only for viewer comfort. But I have to applaud the director's choice to stick to his guns anyway and make a pretty unique experience. Man, am I glad I didn't have dinner before watching.
Some will love this film, some will hate it for various reasons. Me? Still kinda in between. I love the concept and story, but hate the presentation. But I do say it's worth watching so you won't be out of the loop when the inevitable Cloverfield conversations get laid on the table.