Movie Mom

Movie Mom


Cloverfield

posted by Nell Minow
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for violence, terror and disturbing images.
Profanity:Brief strong language
Nudity/Sex:Sexual references
Alcohol/Drugs:Drinking
Violence/Scariness:Intense and graphic peril and violence
Diversity Issues:None
Movie Release Date:January 18, 2008
DVD Release Date:April 22, 2008

cloverfield-1-18-08-poster.jpg Stories, especially movies, are usually linear and organized in part because stories are how we make sense of the world but mostly because of the limits of time. If we are only going to give two hours of our lives to a movie, we don’t have time for irrelevant details. But real life is messy. Patterns only emerge in retrospect. Part of the appeal of scary movies is that we know that it’s just a movie. Those dinosaurs in Jurassic Park or the great ape in King Kong are contained, not just within the limits of the screen but also within the formal limits of traditional story-telling. The perfect lighting and welling music provoke a response in us that is a kind of comfortable scariness.
This movie goes in another direction. A clever premise keeps the audience literally off-balance in “Cloverfield” from J.J. Abrams, the creator of Lost and Alias. We may be in stadium seating at the mall multiplex, eating popcorn, but what we are watching is not a feature film. It is an artifact, a home video found at a site “formerly known as Central Park” that happened to be running when something terrible happened. It’s as though the only documentation of a massive and devastating attack was a 21st century equivalent of the Zapruder film.


So, as the movie begins, we know two things. The 843-acre park in the middle of New York City is now “former.” And all we have to help us find out what happened is one small, imperfect clue. But it is what we don’t know — and what we don’t see — that makes this film so arresting.
For one, we don’t know the cast. Some of the people look vaguely familiar but their faces are more likely to make us think we might have gone to school with them than to stir memories of movies or television shows. They are attractive, but not glamorous. This helps add to the sense of authenticity and intimacy.
They appear in video that was supposed to be taken at a going-away party for a guy named Rob (Michael Stahl-David). Rob’s friend Hud (T.J. Miller) walks around the party, asking people to speak their good wishes for Rob into the camera. But Hud is not very experienced or organized or interested in what he is doing. The camera wanders off toward Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), a girl he would like to approach. It picks up glimpses of other characters and snatches of other conversations in a casually haphazard manner. And then the lights go out. And then buildings start to explode. And, Hud still filming, everyone runs outside and something crashes to the street in front of them. It is the head of the Statue of Liberty.
And then things really get bad.
Occasionally in an attempt to document what is happening but mostly almost inadvertantly, Hud keeps the camera going. As at the party, the camera’s point of view goes off almost on its own, jittery, jumpy, keeping us feeling disoriented and vertiginous, even a little carsick. Instead of the big reveal of the usual thriller, we get only frustrating (and terrifying) glimpses of the monsters and the damage they inflict. Is that a hint of a claw of some kind? Or some spidery legs? Now and then, heartbreakingly, we also get flickers of the footage that this movie is taping over, a scene from a month earlier, with Rob and the girl he likes, Beth, on a date.
Yes, it is a gimmick, but it is effectively done, well-paced, fast-moving, clocking in at a swift 90 minutes. Possibly less a movie than a video-game, it works because it is tantalizing, involving, and most of all because of what it does not tell us. (P.S. One thing the movie does not reveal is the meaning of its title, which purportedly is the almost-random use of the name of the street where Abrams’ office is located.)
Parents should know that this is an intense and scary thriller about a devastating attack on New York City, filmed in an intentionally disorienting and disturbing manner. Many characters are injured and killed and while most of the scares are psychological, there are some graphic images. There is brief strong language and some social drinking.
Families who see this movie should talk about Rob’s decision. What would you have done? How do you compare this form of story-telling to more conventional “attack on New York” films like “Godzilla” and “I Am Legend?”
Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Independence Day, Signs, and 28 Days Later (rated R).



  • Key Largo

    THIS RANKS AT THE TOP OF MY LIST OF THE ABSOLUTE WORST MOVIES I HAVE EVER, EVER SEEN !!
    DO NOT WASTE YOUR HARD EARNED MONEY, DON’T EVEN WAIT UNTIL IT COMES TO DVD, DON’T WAIT UNTIL IT’S ON PAY-PER-VIEW, DON’T EVEN WAIT UNTIL
    IT COMES TO REGULAR TV.
    I ABSOLUTELY CANNOT BELIEVE HOLLLYWOOD PUT OUT THIS KIND OF TRASH -
    WAY OVER-RATED AND UNDER PRODUCED.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks for writing, Key Largo! (I like your screen name – that’s the title of one of my favorite movies.)
    Instead of just saying that you didn’t like it, though, I’d love to hear what you didn’t like about it and how it differed from your expectations. I gather that you prefer a more conventional kind of story-telling?

  • Bigmelon

    I liked the movie. I thought it was an interesting approach and can best be described as “Blair Witch Project” meets “Godzilla”. The acting was decent and, in a 90 minute somewhat disjointed film, the character development worked. I do admit though that some of the scenes of New York being demolished was a bit of a flash back to awful times.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks, BigMelon — agree on all counts.

  • Scott

    100% agree with Key Largo, absolute garbage of a movie…
    blair witch filming+war of the worlds+I am legend= a horrible movie named cloverfield
    don’t waste your money it was a dreadfully boring and predictable movie. it made me mad that i wasted 7.50 to see it

  • yori

    I go to movies to enjoy the ride. This was a fun ride…My 13 year old son and I have enjoyed Godzilla movies together since he was very young and to have an “American ” monster movie with its own “monster” music was just a lot of fun!
    It’s not supposed to be rocket science! Sit back and enjoy the ride!!

  • Big_Dave_T

    I’m not exactly sure what “monster music” Yori is referring to, but the Cloverfield Overture that played during the end credits would make an awesome and scary addition to my collection of Halloween music. I must have it. As far as the negative Cloverfield comments here, they’re understandable. The drunken frat boy cinematography became too nauseating. At least in the Blair Witch Project, the filming was supposedly done by film students who knew how to hold a camera reasonably steady.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks, Yori! And thanks, as always, Big Dave. I think it’s a matter of taste. Some people like to see their monsters and the damage they cause full-on. Others appreciate a different, more documentary-style approach. This one worked well for me.

  • Dave Clark

    Absolute garbage hyped to internet geeks and fanboys that won’t even be remembered a year from now.

  • Darkness_Child

    I enjoyed the movie and thought it was a very oringal film. Too many people are listening to the hype and judging it before they see it. Also, people aren’t taking it for what it is, comparing it to other moives, and are complain about filming (if it wasn’t filmed like that, wouldn’t it be just another movie?).
    I’ve heard lots of good, neutral reviews, which is fine, but I really agree with Movie Mom.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks, Darkness! I appreciate the kind words very much. I’m intrigued that they’re talking about a sequel. I think it could be fascinating to see the same events through other “found footage.”

  • Rick

    I really enjoyed the movie. I understand that the way the movie is filmed could be difficult for some people to watch but I had no trouble with it. In fact I had to see it a second time to catch everything. Including something that I had missed in the background near the very end of the movie. I also like the fact that it was such a unique idea (although similar to Blair Witch) and that the movie just wouldn’t have had the same impact if it was filmed in the “normal” way. Your review was dead on.

  • Liam

    Before watching this, classic trilogy’s like the matrix and lotr were my favorite films…until now. This film is amazing, it had my eyes bulging out of there sockets and my jaw dropped to the floor. I couldn’t get enough and didn’t want the film to end.

  • http://filmforwest.blogspot.com ForWest Inc.

    I wonder how about the monster at the ending? Is the nuclear killed it?
    can someone tell me about it?

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Do you mean at the very end? When you see the flashback to the earlier footage on the video?

  • Andy

    Having watched the movie, I think you’ve missed the point. IMHO, its a love story, plain and simple. Boy goes against all odds to find and save his girl. The rest, including monster, is moving wallpaper.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    An interesting take, Andy! For me, the quest was the wallpaper, just a motivational placeholder to keep us rooting for him, but I see your point.

  • Your Name

    i love that movie!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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