Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Cloverfield (2008)

Fig. 1 Theatrical Poster
Obviously inspired by the success of The Blair Witch Project, this film copies not only the handheld camcorder cinema verite stylings of it's ancestor, but also the curious decision to give away the ending of the story right at the beginning.  (The opening screen informing the audience that the following footage was "retrieved at an incident site formerly known as central park").  Seemingly as a result of this information, the scriptwriters appear to have decided that there wasn't much point developing characters and trying to get the audience to identify with them, since the audience already knows (or at least correctly assumes) that they're going to end up dead in central park (Dargis, 2008).  The plot itself is taken from a Harryhausen classic (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms), although as a result of its single point of view the story contains several gaping holes (where is the creature from?  Why did it decide that downtown Manhattan was the best place to go for a midnight snack?  Why does the hero think that the best idea is to head towards the warzone on the off chance that he might be able to save his critically injured girlfriend?)

It's most innovative feature is the use of "previously recorded" footage to give some backstory to a film that purports to have been recorded over the course of about 6 hours in a linear fashion.  This is most effective in the very ending of the film, just after the camera has been bombed by the USAF (mercifully cutting short the emotional video-will of the "hero") and it cuts to the previous day, with the hero and his girlfriend enjoying a happy day out at Coney Island (while in the background a mysterious object can just be glimpsed falling into the sea).  The director also manages to sneak in proper cinematic shots under the guise of television news reports, these provide some of the clearest early glimpses of the Monster, as well as the "lice" that drop from its body and promptly seek out any human they can get their many teeth into (an idea that may have seemed clever to the script writers, but lost it's impact as a result of having featured in a video game - dan).
Fig. 2  Film Still

The most effective moments in the film occur early on during the attack, as the camera catches brief, unfocussed glimpses of a huge shape moving amongst distant skyscrapers.  These snatched sights provide enough information to give a sense of size and alien-ness, but without tying down the audiences mental images with anything concrete (Ebert, 2008).  When the monster is finally revealed in full, it seems almost a let down - the worst horror the audience's imagination can conjure is replaced with the special-effects artists idea of a monster.  In some ways, the "lice" are more successful at creating fear in the audience - whilst they are shown in their entirity once or twice, it is never for more than a fraction of a second and only as part of rapidly intercut sequences that don't give the viewer time to fully register their appearance.

Fig. 3  Film Still
Unfortunately, the film fails to do more that deliver shiny special effects via extremely jittery camera work.  Elements that might have been truely horrifying instead feel flat and lifeless - when one of the female protagonists is bitten by one of the "lice", her subsequent death doesn't feel significant despite its theoretically horrifying nature (saying "I don't feel well" accompanied by pallor and bleeding from the eyes, followed by an exploding torso a la Alien).  When the heroes make it to a chopper and manage to get airborne, we know that they're not safe (thanks to the opening) and are not at all surprised when the monster lunges out of the dust to snatch their helicopter from the air. In the end, the films key feature - the amateur cameraman footage - turns from a strength to a liability, leaving the story curiously flat and empty (Crust, 2008).

List of Illustrations

 Figure 1.  Paramount Pictures (Org) (2008) "Cloverfield" Theatrical Poster [Digital Image] At: (Accessed on 02/03/2011)

Figure 2.  Paramount Pictures (Org) (2008) Cloverfield [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 02/03/2011)

Figure 3.  Paramount Pictures (Org) (2008) Cloverfield [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 02/03/2011)


Corliss, R (2008)  Corliss on Cloverfield:  The Blair Witch Reject In:  Time [Online] At:,8599,1704366-1,00.html (Accessed on 02/03/2011)

Crust, K  (2008) 'Cloverfield' In:  Los Angeles Times [Online] At:,1,7124274.story?coll=la-entnews-reviews-movies (Accessed on 02/03/2011)

Dargis, M (2008) Cloverfield (2008):  We're All Gonna Die! Grab Your Video Camera!  In:  The New York Times [Online] At: (Accessed on 02/03/2011)

Ebert, R (2008) Cloverfield In: At: (Accessed on 02/03/2011)

Richards, O (2008)  Cloverfield (15) In: Empire [Online] At: (Accessed on 02/03/2011)

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