For this month’s next review for Genre Grandeur – Found Footage Movies, here’s a review of Cloverfield (2008) by Steven of Past Present Future TV and Film
Thanks again to Tim of FilmFunkel for choosing this month’s genre.
Next month’s Genre has been chosen by Natasha of Life of This City Girl We will be reviewing our favorite Sci-Fi Movies.
Please get me your submissions by the 25th of January by sending them to firstname.lastname@example.org Try to think out of the box! Great choice Natasha!
Let’s see what Steven thought of this movie:
Monster movies are nothing new in film. Some have been done better than others, and continued to grow the tradition of monster films, and others we wish had never seen the light of day. Then, there are some that were created long ago, had many films, and inspired and entertained so many filmmakers and viewers for decades. With a legacy like that it’s a wonder we even see monster films anymore.
The Paramount Pictures film “Cloverfield”, actually shows what a good found footage, not to mention monster, film can look like with the right story and execution of that story.
This thriller stars Lizzy Caplan (upcoming “Now You See Me 2”, “The Night Before”), Jessica Lucas (“Gotham”, “Gracepoint”), T.J. Miller (upcoming “Deadpool”, “Gravity Falls”), Michael Stahl-David (“Just in Time for Christmas”, “Show Me a Hero”), Mike Vogel (“Childhood’s End”, “Under the Dome”), and Odette Yustman (“The Grinder”, “The Astronaut Wives Club”).
The film was directed by Matt Reeves (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, “Let Me In”) and written by Drew Goddard (“The Martian”, “Daredevil (TV series)).
The film originally opened on Jan. 18, 2008.
I am excited for a few reasons! First, I forgot how much I loved this film and second it’s been ages since I last was able to participate in one of these blog things for MovieRob. I forgot how much I enjoyed trying to pick something and watching the film that I knew fit the months genre best for me. Thankfully the genre was one that I immediately thought of something and jumped on right away! Truth be told, I actually forgot that I even had this film in my collection to begin with. It doesn’t surprise me that I would, but that just shows how long it’s been since I last saw it. That streak has now ended!
The best things, above all these others are the creatures! There’s the big one, the main one with a name that escapes me currently, and the little fast crawling creatures that are quite dangerous. From a design aspect, as I don’t want to ruin it for those that have somehow managed to miss this film or don’t remember it that well, it’s incredible! The digital design and effects used to bring it to life are amazing, even when looking at them today. I find that the detail is perfect for the type of creature we end up seeing. You an easily tell a lot about how it functions and how much though, in general, went into the creature design. With the little, almost crab like creatures, thankfully a puppet was designed to give the actors something to look at. Then they used digital effects to create one scene in particular. They’re scary, and on e bite could hurt so much! It’s one thing to see them creepily fall off the big monster and scuttle around, but another when we finally meet them in the subway tunnel. That sequence, which also surprised me, was the most frightening and exciting thing about this film. I was scared all over again, and just found it to be a sequence that earned the jumps it got from me.
The biggest selling point, which I vaguely remember from TV spots, was the overall approach to the mystery surrounding the monster, and the film itself. TV spots never showed much more than they needed to, which really seemed to be a small amount, but this was really enough to get you into the theater in the first place. I only had to know that J.J. Abrams was an executive producer and that his company, Bad Robot, was releasing the film. Now, much like seven years ago, Abrams approached so much of what he had a hand in creating, with secrecy. He wanted people to be as surprised as they possibly could, and that includes how and what unfolded in the film or television show itself. Anybody remember “Lost”?
Within the film, the mystery continued. After spending time introducing the characters and being allowed to get comfortable, things take a turn! Things go boom and shake and rattle, but all we first see, because of Miller’s Hud as he’s the cameraman, is a big explosion off in the distance. As debris begins falling from the sky, everyone runs and the film really takes off. As we move along with the characters, as they try to figure out what’s happened and stay safe, which gets more and more impossible, we also occasionally get slight glimpses at what the monster is. Everyone’s trying to cross a bridge and down falls a tentacle or something, as we look up and around throughout the film, we see something quite large, but never get a clear idea as it’s already moved behind a building by the time we see where it was. One thing I‘d forgotten was how long this hide and seek game goes on. It’s a slow build up that actually has me a bit scared and I wasn’t expecting that again. The reveal of what the monster looks like, let alone that it’s some big monster, didn’t come until about 36 minutes into the film. That’s some time to go in terms of film length. It shows a lot on the part of Goddard and Abrams and their commitment to taking time with the thing that is terrorizing the city. It’s dedication that Abrams has applied again and again.
The mystery is reason enough to love this film, but it’s also in the fact that because Miller’s Hud is a scared person with a camera, you become a scared person seeing through a camera lens. Yes, it’s all shaky and found footage like, but it doesn’t just serve to be those things. It puts you into the action better and allows there to be more fear, plus a lot more mystery. I found myself practically craning to get a look at the monster. So much was occurring all around, that between keeping track of what the main characters were doing, and seeing all the things get destroyed or lay destroyed, I’m surprised I had time to try and follow the monster. Fortunately, as was part of the point, sometimes the monster just surprised me as it popped out of nowhere and looked terrifying.
Which brings me to another one of the reasons why this film works really well even now, and why I chose this film as my favorite, the found footage style. The found footage technique, which was more of a novelty at this time and a bit before, has since been cannibalized. Every other film is a found footage horror film and the film itself is hardly worth it, but going with this technique even less so. The most recent piece of garbage I saw with this was “The Gallows”. I won’t say anymore on it.
This film first off gives a very good reason for why there’s a video camera at all. It’s to record testimonials at a goodbye party. Okay, not bad, which is more than I can say behind the reasoning in “The Gallows” or even the “Paranormal Activity” films. Hell, “The Blair Witch Project” has more reason than those sets of films. In this film, little things are what build up some of the reasons why this film works and the technique not a total waste. When the camera or the person operating it, falls or is put down, it stays that way for a good amount of time. Yes, it’s ultimately picked back up, but it isn’t instantly, and sometimes it changes what you can see in a given scene. You can hear everything, but never see it. I also thought about how the motivation for having the camera constantly, instead just leaving it and running for good, is that Hud was more interested in capturing this major occurrence.
I think, not just of how today, but a bit in 2007 and 2008, we all were obsessed capturing everything that was considered some kind of major event. I remember seeing home video footage of people witnessing when the tsunami in 2004 hit, and how it showed people responding, but also how powerful the storm itself is. Certainly changes how you see the storm in relation to just another news story. Now we have more social media than ever before, so this instinct, good or bad, has become even more automatic. No one thinks twice about it.
That being said, watching the film this time around, now more so than ever before, I believe, it’s become a bit annoying. It now, and will always follow the (now) typical approach that never makes any sense to found footage films. The camera is always being carried around, and more likely than not, for no damn reason. When it should’ve stayed on the ground or broken in this film, it somehow got picked up again. The camera was always ready to capture everything Hud saw and thus required it to be in his face, which seems irritating. I mean, how can you see anything? This approach has me, and everyone with a brain, asking, why are you always holding the camera in front of your face, never letting it dangle or hang in your hand at your side? The one in this film, clearly has a strap. It’s funny, but I blame this film, in part, for why the found footage sub-genre has become such a constant.
The characters and acting were fine and interesting enough. Why is that? This is because of the emotional bits, most coming out of fear, during the attacks. It’s more about how they were handled and thus came off in the film. After the attack begins, not only is there the genuine and expected care that comes with the continued assault, as they’re all friends in the same situation, but you just get some good moments to learn about them and see them behave towards each other. When the film slows down to allow the characters a safe haven or a transition of sorts, and us, the audience the chance to catch our breaths, this is when we get a lot of these moments.
Then, of course, there’s the beginning of the film. The beginning, which probably lasts upwards of 20 minutes, is a goodbye party for Stahl-David’s character, which also gives the reason (a solid reason) for why there’s a video camera being used at all. Hud has been enlisted to record the guests saying goodbye to Stahl-David and wishing him well. Fortunately, Hud being Hud, he can’t simply do just that, and sort of turns into an amateur documentarian. He tracks various people all over the party and even tries to capture private conversations, which also falls into one of those areas that’s just annoying for a found footage film. Who does this type of thing in real life? Within this first part, which was exciting on its own as it it was depicting a party, I feel I learned so much and also just felt like I belonged. Definitely a creative way to introduce characters and begin the film.
I’m a fan of monster films and creature features, even the dreadfully bad ones that are on SyFy or are just direct to DVD. But, even while I can find some enjoyment out of these cheaply made ones, I do occasionally turn towards the higher end ones. Ones that aren’t necessarily solely amazing because of digital effects, but because the story itself is well thought out and delivers on my built up expectations. If a monster film can get me into the story and keep me there the entire time, and dare I say, even scare me a bit or really keep me on edge, it’s pretty much a success. So few actually do that and become memorable in this way, so I’ll gladly take the good ones when I get them. Hopefully other filmmakers will see that a good monster film is worth it and could maybe lead to a slight bit of creativity that’s so severely lacking in Hollywood.
One final note on this film’s approach to mystery, if you will.
Even one of the first posters was presented so mysteriously! Wow! Shows the scope that Abrams thought about this film. He does have a great dedication to mystery and secrecy, as we discovered from how he approached handling his newest film “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens”. It also shows how much I either didn’t pay attention to the marketing back then, or somehow missed this poster, or! (as I keep thinking of them), how I’ve just forgotten the approach taken for this film.
Incredible “Cloverfield” teaser trailer (No, seriously, this is amazing! Can’t believe I don’t remember if I ever saw this or not):