Sunday, July 27, 2008

Matt Reeves – Cloverfield (2008)

If I said to you, imagine a cross between Godzilla, Eight Legged Freaks and The Blair Witch Project, that wouldn't be a film you'd be running to see, right? That's why I'm not going to say that about Cloverfield.

I was skeptical. But although I'm generally far from a fan of the 'hand held camera=extra, arty, reality' style that became so prevalent after BWP, it really works in this film (as it has in others, such as Series Seven). The conceit is that the film, recovered by the Department of Defense, was the digital camerawork of 'Hud' Platt, filming a friend's going-away party when monster/alien disaster strikes New York. The action is intercut with previous sequences involving the group of friends and their relationships.

This isn't at all a typical monster film, however - although towards the end it comes closer to what we'd expect from the genre, with a strong narrative pull, and does so very effectively in genre terms, without overplaying its hand. In terms of atmosphere, it reminded me more of works like Cube where the psychology of a pressure situation is the focus and the event is the framing device in which it occurs. Again, I didn't initially feel sympathy for the main characters as a fairly film-standard bunch of young, rich, vacuous New Yorkers, but this really changed over the course of the work.

There's also another point of interest here, in that in the light of September 11 it seems to me quite a daring choice to make a very 'real' feeling creature feature flick about an attack on New York. Perhaps that also added to the fact that the trauma, poignancy and tragedy really worked, for this viewer at least. I also admired the fact that the film wasn't delivering on our genre expectations of heroism, and on the meaningfulness of action in terms of its resolution.

While there are a lot of similarities with BWP (including a viral marketing campaign, and the release of a 'mix-tape' soundtrack to a film with no musical score, though the tracks are played in the original party sequence), I enjoyed this film more, given that, in comparison to the aforementioned film, the genre/subject Cloverfield was working with is much less adapted to the mood it so successfully created, giving this work a real originality, which, combined with narrative and emotional drive, and the successful use of the genre conventions without exploiting them or simply setting up the cliches and knocking 'em down, made for a film that I have a lot of time for.

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