Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Cloverfield

Cloverfield
Dir. - Matt Reeves

I'll admit it, I've never seen The Blair Witch Project. But even during that one or two weeks when I couldn't get on the T without overhearing some annoying BU kid talking about the movie, I've never really felt like I was missing out on anything. That was not the case leading up to Cloverfield. The hype machine worked on me for this one. I loved that first trailer and had fun reading every ones theories and spending a couple hours that one day looking for clues on the various websites they'd set up for the film. So expectations were notched up on one of the high rungs when I went into an early afternoon showing this weekend.

Short story, it didn't disappoint me. I was highly entertained and kept guessing as to how it was going to end. I liked the monster, the effects and felt that the gimmick payed off. I wasn't annoyed by the central characters and even though there is liberties taken with technology and motivations -- I'm sorry, that's par for this course and it's not something that bothered me a bit. We're watching a monster movie here, and even though it's presented to us in a way that's meant to heighten the realism, yeah, it's still a monster movie. People are going to do things you know they shouldn't, people are going to get out of situations in ways that defy certain laws and yeah, technology will invariable bend to someones will. So be it.

I'm sure you know the story -- bff's have a falling out at a going away party before big monster descends (or is it rises) upon NYC which results in a band of four, one who had been given the duty to document the evening, coming together to rescue the injured bff across town before the city is either destroyed by the monster or by the military in an effort to destroy the monster. This will be the last time I use the term bff.

The movie is bookended by these titles that tell you you're watching unedited material the military found in Central Park. I think it might have been better served by having the movie start out with a shot of the YouTube home page and someone clicking on "Cloverfield" because that's what this movie epitomizes for me. In a world... obsessed with YouTube videos... Don't get me wrong -- there's nothing sloppy going on with this movie. It is extremely well produced and some of the shots and long takes that are on display are quite impressive. For a movie that from what I understand was shot for the most part on sets in LA -- I never once doubted that I was in NYC.

I can understand why some might be put off by the characters. Manhola Dargis compared them to Dawson's Creek people and said she never rooted for a monster more than with this movie. Be that as it may (she didn't like Oldboy, btw), while these certainly aren't the deepest characters captured for a movie, they do strike me as familiar and I wouldn't say they were as direct from the factory as a lot of other movies from this genre. Dare I say people at that age from that part of town don't show a whole lot of depth anyway? Either way, the performances are good. So what if a whole lot of range isn't demanded of them. Should I say it again? It's a monster movie that clocks in at under 90 minutes.

There's a series of scenes that take place in the subway that do a good job of covering every base you can hit in this kind of movie. It goes from morose as one of them tries his best to handle a badly timed phone call from his mother, to funny as they try to keep small talk going while walking through the dark of the tunnels, to frightening as one friend tries to kick some alien beastie who's chomping on another friend like a spare rib.

It's not a perfect movie by any means. It knows it' not going to win any awards and it's comfortable in it's genre. The distributor chose the perfect time to release this film long ago. But it's a well made high-concept horror film that's light on the horror and more interested in the personal drama -- it's trying to take the high road but is well aware of its limitations. Drew Goddard is one of my favorite television writers and I'd love to see him get some more chances to do film work but I have a feeling he was just trying to get the job done and in on time. There's a good amount of laughs and honest moments in the movie but I will admit there's a few groaners too. But just a few.

I had said earlier that The Host had set the bar high for any new monster movies to come around and try to act tough and Cloverfield is an excellent challenger but it doesn't quite hit all those bases again and again as The Host does. But The Host is one of the best monster movies ever made period. So Cloverfield is a pretty damn good one. The gimmick works. And from what I've heard it works a lot better than Blair Witch.

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