“This is important. People are gonna watch this.” Cloverfield claims to be a tape from a video camera chronicling events on the night that a huge attack took place in New York. It has been obtained by the military and is being shown to us privileged few. The film takes the premise of an all-action monster movie and brings it down to Earth with a personal story of one group of friends filmed on their camera.
The tape switches between April 27; showing footage of a young man (Rob) and woman (Beth) spending the day together, and May 22; a monster attack on the city, filmed by Rob’s best friend Hud. The latter being the primary focus of the film. The main characters are Rob, his brother Jason, Jason’s girlfriend Lily, Hud, and Hud’s crush Marlena. Also, there is Beth, who is the ‘Holy Grail’ Rob is trying to find once all hell breaks loose. Beth appears at Rob’s going-away party at the start of the film with another man and it is revealed that although they spent that day together, Rob hasn’t called since. They have an argument and she storms out. Rob didn’t call because he is leaving for a new job in Japan but once the attack happens, he realises that Beth is the most important thing to him. The group’s quest is to get to Beth and make it out of the city safely.
The camerawork has a deliberate low-budget feel, with slanted angles, sudden zooms, a shaky camera and lack of focus in parts. The ‘cameraman’ Hud talks a lot to those around him, there are often people walking in front of the camera or generally getting in the way of the shot and when he runs we can’t see clearly at all. All of these things add to the film’s feeling of realism and the sense of immediacy and fear. It is as if the audience is on ground-level themselves, in the streets, witnessing what is happening first-hand. What also helps is that the special effects are clearly at the other end of the budget scale, with some truly fantastic shots ensuring the film packs a punch.
When the group goes down into the subway, it is a chance for both them and the audience to take a breather. It has been frantic and suspenseful up until this point and a moment of relaxation is needed before another onslaught of action. When the tape switches back to April 27 to show us more of Rob and Beth’s day together, we also get a break, as well as when there are rare moments of humour. In the pitch-black tunnel we are on high-alert, and Hud delivers my favourite line “Do you guys remember a couple of years ago when that guy was lighting homeless people on fire in the subways?” It is so out of place and inappropriate that it makes me laugh every time and the tension is lifted. That is, until something appears out of the darkness moments later...
Nothing is explained about the monster, all we as an audience know is what the group know, what the video camera shows us. The film doesn’t stop to explain the origins of the monster, why it is here or where it came from. This intensifies the belief that we are right there with them and have no idea why this is happening, we are just willing them to get away.
Underneath the monster movie there is also a love story, just like underneath the footage of the attack there is a recording of the day they spent together. It is the tale of one man going to rescue his love from the tall tower, so they can be together and live happily. The two dates on the video camera are probably the best and worst days of Rob and Beth’s lives, captured on film. The last line of the film is from their day out, “I had a good day.” I don’t think they’d say the same thing about the day the monster attacked their city.
Overall, Cloverfield has a good story, some great special effects and it delivers on shocks. It is a monster movie for the social networking generation, the ones who would be filming it like this themselves if something similar happened in real life. It is a new way of reworking an old formula and it makes for an enjoyable movie.