Directed by: Matt Reeves
Starring: Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T. J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman
Cloverfield is a found-footage style monster invasion film set in New York, during an unknown and unexplained alien invasion. Rob (Michael Stahl-David) is set to go to Japan for a new job and his friends throw him a surprise party. After the alien’s first attack Rob along with Hud (T. J. Miller, The Emoji Movie), Rob’s brother Jason (Mike Vogel), Jason’s girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas) and Rob’s aunt Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) are all trying to escape the chaos that’s come upon New York City, before Rob decides he must save long-time love interest Elizabeth (Odette Yustman). From there the group gets attacked at regular intervals while New York City plunges further and further into chaos.
The found-footage style films are normally reserved to horror films, after the initial success of The Blair Witch Project inspired films such as Paranormal Activity and Rec, but Cloverfield marks an interesting foray into a slightly different genre (if a monster invasion can be classified differently to horror), and it’s certainly a well-used tool. Yes, having the party is an easy way to have them initially using the camera, but Hud is well within reason to continue filming for large parts of it because it can be used for post-alien analysis and explanations. Although as with all found-footage films it can be questionable about how well it’s edited, and with Cloverfield that’s no exception. Pauses for small parts of a lengthy run, paused briefly while they’re climbing, pausing mid-way through conversations quickly; there can be explanations, but during the fear while they’re running away surely pausing the camera to save battery or length is the last thing that’d be on your mind?
But when you get over those issues with this style of recording, the footage we’re presented with is a well acted and well paced alien invasion film. I loved the idea that we don’t find out too much information about anything, because people involved in alien invasions would not find out much information, and the subtleness with how they showed the monster is brilliant. And the friends and family of Rob being lost along the ways at various points hammer home a seriousness to the situation. It’s not a gang of friends just surviving the situations; it’s a gang of people being torn apart by an unknown alien. And I really like plots like that.
The acting in found-footage films is harder to analyse as they’re trying more-so-than-normally to act natural, and most of the cast in Cloverfield act their parts well. We’re drawn in emotionally at the right time and are compelled to side with whatever stupid decisions they decide to make; decisions which include running to rescue Elizabeth during an alien invasion with the threat of the U.S. government bombing and levelling the city at large.
My criticisms mainly stand from not entirely being logical with regards to why Hud keeps stopping and starting his recordings (and a few weird camera angles that genuinely had me standing with my phone to try and work out how he’s holding the camera), and how little can be written into characters. This style of film doesn’t completely negate much character-development because of the nature of how it’s filmed, and it feels that Hud is the only character who engages enough to have much of a personality. But while the characters aren’t fully well written, what I found to be beautiful was the occasional interference with the old footage that was on the tape of Rob and Elizabeth’s recent day out; it really hammers home their friendship and is a massive contrast to what’s going currently. And the final clip from their day out footage is harrowingly beautiful at the conclusion of this film.
Easily my favourite found-footage film and I loved so much of this film from its premise to its lack of aliens on screen, but it does suffer from some of the criticisms that can unfortunately be labelled against all found-footage films and alien-invasion films less than 90-minutes long.
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