I remember the marketing for Cloverfield back in 2007 and 2008. I was 10 years old and perplexed by how little this movie told me. From the moment that Statue of Liberty’s head slammed into the street, I was hooked. When the movie released on January 18, 2008, I dragged my dad to come see it with me, getting a large popcorn and giant ICEE (red and blue mixed, of course). The movie I saw changed me — because half-way through, I got up, walked outside the theatre, and threw up about two pounds worth of popcorn and ICEE into a nearby trashcan. When I came back my dad asked me, “Did you throw up?” “Yes,” I said. “Do you want to leave?” he asked. “No.” Truly a remarkable moviegoing experience.
Cloverfield holds a very special place in my heart. Not only was it the first movie I ever threw up watching, but it introduced me to four amazing things: the Cloverfield franchise, J.J. Abrams, Drew Goddard, and one of my favorite directors, Matt Reeves. T.J Miller and Lizzy Caplan also star in the film and, while they were known at the time, neither were at their peak in regards to Hollywood stardom. It is quite interesting to see a lot of famous people and filmmakers before they reached their big breaks.
Cloverfield tells the story of a man named Jason who’s celebrating with friends the night of his promotion party. Things are going well when suddenly, a huge explosion throws all of New York for a loop as a mysterious force emerges and decimates the landscape. Now Jason and his friends must navigate a decimated New York to find his ex-girlfriend and make sure she’s okay.
The story is pretty straightforward and has no convoluted plot like other monster movies. The only real problem that I have with this movie is the characters. You won’t really feel much attachment to them as they aren’t fleshed out enough for us to really be worth caring about. They still get the job done, since all the actors do a great job fleshing out their characters through interactions with each other, so you at least feel bad when they go down.
And that’s what leads to the movie’s biggest strengths. Cloverfield is a found footage horror film, so its job is to convince you that these are real people and this incident really happened. That’s the movie’s goal, and it does it perfectly. Due to most of the actors being unknown, with the exception of T.J. Miller, our ability to buy into their roles is significantly easier than most. But it doesn’t end there. The shaky cam style makes for an immersive, if not nausea-inducing, experience that fits the world, even if you’ll feel the need to look away from time to time. Props to the direction here as every single frame makes you feel like this took place in the real world, be it how civilians and military interact with the main characters, or the fear that underlies a lot of scenes where character worry they might fail in saving Beth. There’s a lot at stake here, and due to the nature of the found footage genre, it makes it real easy to get on board with the characters’ goals.
Another huge plus is the score, or rather, the lack thereof. With the exception of the end credits, not a single note of music is found within this movie, which only adds to the nerve-wracking nature of the film. Music has the ability to immerse the audience in a movie’s world, so in this case the opposite is still true. Because there is no score, it just makes the real world believability factor go up. However, that being said, I must commend Michael Giacchino for his end credits score. It doesn’t feel out of place and is super reminiscent of the old monster movie scores of the 50s- it’s as unique as it is original and nostalgic. A perfect midway.
But what this movie does best above all else is how creepy and scary it is. Sure, we have the occasional jumpscare here and there, but where its horror truly lies is in similar vain to Alien. Just as Alien gave us questions with no answers, Cloverfield does the exact same thing. Where did Clover (the monster) come from? What are the parasites attached to it? How many bites were there before noticed? Did bombing the monster kill it? Was that a satellite or an egg that crashed into the ocean at the end? And if you watched the ARG that precedes the movie, you got even more questions. Is Tagruato the one to blame for Clover’s release? Is the monster really only a baby? Are the eggs alive? How long have they been there? Who put them there? Will there ever be a real sequel to Cloverfield? We don’t get any answers and it’s because of that lack that the film becomes terrifying in a way that no other horror or monster franchise has ever been able to accomplish. There’s so much more to this story if we dig just a bit more, but the more we dig, the less we know.
Finally, there’s the monster, which is easily one of the best movie monsters I have ever seen. Its design is unique and its size is just right. It can’t breathe fire or explode with an EMP, but what it does have is a straightforward goal: to survive. With Godzilla, we know that he is trying to save the world from forces like MechaGodzilla or King Gidora. With the Xenomorph, we know it’s trying to multiply and divide. Yet what makes Cloverfield’s monster so unique is that its goals and needs are so bare bones, leaving us uncertain as to its purpose. We know it has only just woke up and is trying to figure out where it came from, like a baby discovering its place in the world. It doesn’t want to hurt people, it just does.
Then there’s the roar, easily amongst the scariest noises I have ever heard. It’s natural and unnatural at the same time: quick and loud, sort of like a bark or honk, almost animalistic in nature. Monsters usually have loud and thundering roars. But with Cloverfield, it’s just quick and loud. It feels more real than most other movie monsters which makes it unnatural in terms of movies. Brilliant to say the least.
Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Cloverfield is a very straightforward monster movie. Its characters are underdeveloped, but due to the 80 minute runtime, it really doesn’t impact the film that much. But what makes Cloverfield so unique is the world its characters live in. The ARG that follows this film adds the lore of its universe and makes for a truly terrifying experience. And while the found footage aspect may make for some nauseating moments, otherwise, I cannot recommend this movie enough. It really is unlike anything I have seen in years. Here’s hoping we get a real sequel soon.