Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Why I Love Cloverfield

There is a lot of nonsense in Cloverfield. Beyond the fact that a giant alien monster creature lands in Manhattan and trashes the entire city, there are also a great deal of puzzling narrative missteps. The story might have its flaws and the characters are not much to write home about but this is a film where style is king and wow is it a breathless ride.

Director Matt Reeves created something truly visceral, immediate and immersive. If a monster did land in Manhattan and someone was there to film it, this is what it would be like. It clearly borrows (some would argue highly insensitively) from the horrific amateur videos of 9/11 that were broadcast on the news, in documentaries and have now found their homes on YouTube. The destruction of buildings and iconic landmarks, dust covered streets and people, and the emergency services seeming completely out of their depth are all recognisable elements from the handheld home videos of people who grabbed their cameras on September 11th 2001.

Found footage films often have a problem with believability despite their aesthetics being designed to convince you of their veracity. The main problem is that no one believes that a character would keep filming when faced with imminent danger and especially the very real prospect of their own demise. However, this is another area where Cloverfield excels. In giving the duty of camera operating to funny guy Hud, the audience can totally buy in to the idea that this guy just wants to keep filming. First he is reluctant when offered the job of documenting the leaving party of Rob. Then he quickly finds it fun and assumes the responsibility that has been handed to him. Even after the party is rudely interrupted by a giant monster tearing off the head of the Statue of Liberty and throwing it down a street, Hud decides it is still his duty to document the events in which he finds himself a participant.

His continued filming is completely believable. In light of all the videos from 9/11, we know that people desire to film and share this kind of extraordinary footage. Like Hud says, people WILL want to see how it all went down. His reactions from behind the camera feel real. He screams, repeats his cries to God over and over again, and his confusion and fear are constantly palpable. His filming is not the work of a calm professional but instead the haphazard flailing of a terrified individual.

Like Heather from The Blair Witch Project who was determined to keep making that goddam documentary even when she was losing her mind, (SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER!!!) Hud keeps filming right until his death. His last surviving friends realise the importance of the camera in capturing their legacy and record their last messages to the world before being blown to smithereens. It's a wonderfully bleak ending that leaves the audience to decide if the bombing actually managed to kill the monster. In a final bit of bitter irony, the previously recorded Coney Island day trip of lovers Rob and Beth flashes up on the screen as Beth says to camera 'I had a good day'. If you look carefully, you will see something crash into the ocean in the distance. It's a perfect bit of non-linear storytelling that ends the film on a deeply sad note (even if you don't care much for the hipster characters) by taking us back to the beginning of the story just as all is lost.

For all its flaws, I love Cloverfield nearly as much as I love The Blair Witch Project. Forget any versions of Godzilla, Cloverfield is the definitive monster movie of our generation.

More from I Love That Film:

Buy my book on The Blair Witch Project

Deconstructing Cinema: Cloverfield

Characters With Cameras 

Results for the Best Found Footage Film 

New York at The Movies