In my last post I had a big rant about open endings and leaving questions unanswered. A couple of days after that I watched Cloverfield, a film notorious for leaving its audience guessing and one which I remember very much dividing opinion at the time of its release. I went in to it expecting to come out much the same as I did with Prometheus, but actually I was pleasantly surprised.
Cloverfield manages to do what Prometheus failed at: keep a sense of mystery and intrigue without being entirely frustrating. We may never be explicitly told where the monster came from, but we’re given enough hints during the film to be able to come up with our own ideas, just like the characters in the film itself have to. It’s this factor which is so crucially missing from Prometheus. It’s fine to leave questions open for your audience to answer, but you need to give them something to work with. Cloverfield famously had the viral campaign which took place months before it’s release, setting up a variety of fake websites, companies and advertisements to give clues as to what was behind the film. I missed all of that, and yet I was still able to piece together what I think was supposed to be going on. Just like with Prometheus, I also hit the blogs and message boards to find out stuff I might have missed, but while with the former I mainly found rants of confusion and half guessed theories, for Cloverfield there were obvious clues within the film and virals that gave the answers I was looking for.
Enough comparing it to Prometheus. The film itself is so much better than I had given it credit for that I feel the need to talk it up a bit. The Blair Witch style hand held camera work is often an issue for a lot of filmgoers, but I really liked it in Cloverfield. It put the audience right in there with the action, including us in the group and making everything more real. It’s the realism of Cloverfield that is its greatest strength. No mean feat for a film about a giant monster from who-knows-where going on a rampage through New York. It’s basically Godzilla from ground level, and while that means the plot is hardly something new, the story is told in a very new way. We’re so used to seeing how America saves the world in these situations that it was really intriguing to see it from a much smaller perspective for once. While Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum were uploading Mac compatible viruses in Independence Day, it’s very unlikely that your average Joe on the street had a clue what was going on. They were just scared, confused and trying to survive, which is the story that Matt Reeves is telling.
The cast of relative unknowns are all strong. I liked that our hero Rob didn’t suddenly become excessively strong/emotionally stable/develop superpowers as is often the case with Average Joe heroes in disaster movies. And while the female characters did fulfill the industry standard of crying a lot, they weren’t just sobbing eye candy. I also likes the odd interjections of black humour from camera man Hud, who is perhaps the most real character of them all. While we rarely see his face, his continual monologue reflects how most of us (if we’re honest)would react if a giant lizard thing suddenly started picking off our friends and throwing bits of the Statue of Liberty at us.
aA for the monster itself, it’s a well known fact that as soon as you reveal the Big Bad you’ve lost your tension. The mechanical Jaws was nowhere near as scary as the one we were picturing in our heads; so I was surprised that we got to see what the internet affectionately call “Clover” so early on in the film. And yeah, she does look like Godzilla, but no matter how much they worked on that design, it was always going to be compared to Godzilla, so we can’t really blame them for that. There’s only so many half-believable giant lizard things you can come up with. Anyway, this film isn’t really about the Big Bad, it’s about the people, and that’s what it does so well. It’s a small band of friends just trying to get through this with no attempts to take it on single handedly and save the universe, the same simple idea that made Shaun of the Dead so successful.
There is a wodnerful attention to detail in Cloverfield too. The film runs at 80 minutes, the length of a standard video tape, andis littered with subliminal imagery from other monster films and the aforementioned viral campaign. It’ll definitely take a couple of watches to catch them all.
If like me, you ignored Cloverfield due to the backlash it received, maybe now is the time to check it out. Especially if you’re feeling let down by Prometheus, because as far as I’m concerned, this is a much better thriller, with both a sense of scale and claustrophobia, and capturing ambiguity in a way that Ridley Scott failed so spectacularly at.