Cloverfield (2008): Four friends are suddenly thrown into a battle for survival against a Godzilla-like creature in New York City.
Ok before we start this review I'm just going to say....if you somehow haven't seen this movie, stop reading this review. Now. Make every effort you can to go and watch this 80 minute movie ASAP. It's worth every single second. Once you've done that, come back and read this review.
Back now? Awesome. Here we go. I'm assuming you've seen the movie now as I talk about it. Just a warning.
It's a shame that The Dark Knight had to come out this year because if it hadn't this would without a doubt be my best movie of 2008. Well it's not really a shame because after all The Dark Knight is amazing, but it is because this movie is SO GOOD. Let's start with the shaky cam. Ok anyone who has read my reviews in the past knows that I HATE SHAKY CAM. It's a ridiculously disorienting ploy used by filmmakers to build tension within a movie, except in this movie. In this movie, it WORKS. Like a charm. Why? Because I feel that throughout this movie (until the third act) it is actually a pretty realistic take on how people would react if Godzilla (we are just going to call the creature Godzilla because it's a clear representation of that) showed up in NYC. As a result of this, I feel like the shaky cam is used to evoke realism, because after all the movie is in FIRST PERSON (which we'll get to) and when you running for your life with a camera on your shoulder, it's going to be not steady. WHOA NEWSFLASH. And I feel like there is a good balance between the shaky cam and actually catching what's going on around the characters to the point that I didn't feel disoriented at all. Honestly I can't envision what this movie would be like if it wasn't in first person. So to sum it up instead of using first person as a crutch to build tension, I feel that the first person is used to evoke realism. Which is why it works for me.
The story is simple...a group of mid 20 year olds are getting together to wish one of their friends luck in heading overseas for a job. But Godzilla has other plans. The movie starts this plot very abruptly after about 20 minutes of good set-up between the characters who are involved in the remainder of the movie. In the following 60 minutes, many spectacular scenes occur while our characters fight for their lives against this monster, and a single camera catches it all. One of the things that this movie nails is the cameraman, Hud. He is a well fleshed out and well-written character, which is saying something since you only see him for about a single minute of the film. But the idea of making him the comedic relief for the movie makes him very likeable as a person and not just known as the camera guy. And given the fact that in the hour with Godzilla there's just four people total that we see, they needed to be sure that they nailed Hud.
Another positive in this movie is the reveal of the monster initially. The horrible 90's Godzilla remake could've really taken notes from Cloverfield on the initial reveal of the monster. Fog? Really? A huge Godzilla creature is going to be concealed by a bit of fog? C'mon. Instead....let's hide him with distance and the limits of a single camera from twenty blocks away. That works. Another thing this movie does that works is create a setting of intimacy. Godzilla attacking NYC you'd think that it would be this wide-scale battle taking place, right? Not here. They make you aware that it's going on while simultaneously not letting you see it actually take place until its RIGHT in your face. This also adds an element of fear into the mix, which is further emphasized with the subway sequence. Oh the subway sequence! Definitely the best scene of the movie. I still remember the first time I watched that scene in theaters. I was TERRIFIED. Absolutely terrified. Now it's only a ten minute scene so if you get scarred easily don't avoid this because of this one fact. Really this movie submerges you into it even more because of this scene. The use of first-person is BRILLIANT. This movie would be a shadow of its self without it. And it looks like it really is shot in first person in part thanks to brilliant editing and cinematography.
It's not perfect though. Despite having the name of J.J. Abrams attached to this, it is still an Indie movie, and while the actors for the most part are good (with Hud leading the way) they do fail at times to sell you on their motivations. Like I can understand why Rob is searching for Beth. That one I was sold on, but I wasn't sold on Marlena's character. Her whole story was a bit of a failure in my opinion. The only other thing I didn't buy was the final ten minutes. That got a little too Hollywood for me. That's it. Those are my only two complaints for this whole movie.
The Critique: a near flawless movie, this movie lives off of its intimacy and humor, meshed brilliantly with the fear and chaos created by a giant monster attacking NYC. One of the best monster movies of recent memory.
The Recommendation: literally a must-watch for anyone. End of story.
The Verdict: 9.5/10 Damn near perfect
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