Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Michael Stahl-David, T. J Miller, Jessica Lucas, Lizzy Caplan, Odette Yustman, Mike Vogel
Plot: While filming testimonies at a leaving party, Hud (Miller) captures a disastrous phenomena in the streets of New York through his camera.
I have grown tired of found footage movies. My main problem with them is that, what was once an imaginative new sub-genre of cinema, has become the ‘quick-fix’ guidebook for any independent film-maker, who wants to make a movie, but has a very limited budget. Pick up any old camera – in many cases, lesser quality works just as well as good quality – and point it in the direction of the action. Making a good monster (and let’s be honest, most found footage movies are horrors), is easy, because you never really need a single clear shot of the villain, meaning that make-up and costume is also kept to a minimum. However, in being such an easy alternative to mainstream cinema, imagination has been sucked out of the process. Most of the time, it is a bunch of amateur teenagers wandering around a dark set with generic jump scares and non-existent character arcs, replaying the same movie we have seen dozens of times before. We have fallen a long way from the brilliance of the Blair Witch Project.
Enter Cloverfield. J. J Abrams, producer of this movie and a guaranteed sign that the movie you are watching will be entertaining, at the very least, saw the potential in the found footage genre. He saw it as more than an excuse to make a movie on the cheap, but on telling a tired story from a fresh viewpoint. Therefore he injects a big budget into the project and gives director Matt Reeves and writer Drew Goddard a field day at the office. Cloverfield is essentially a disaster shown from the ground up. It has the story of a run-of-the-mill Roland Emmerich movie: New York City is subject to a disaster, buildings being destroyed recklessly and the Statue of Liberty having its head ripped from its shoulders. The first victim is an oil tanker in a respectful nod to Ishiro Honda’s original Godzilla movie. However, what sets Cloverfield apart from the likes of Day After Tomorrow and Independence Day is the use of found footage. We are shown the story through the eyes of six New Yorkers as they are trapped in the eye of the storm. The found footage element lifts the story above what we would normally get. Reeves shows us the panic of a confused public. They, and we as an audience, have no idea what is causing the destruction of the world around them and their desperate dash for survival in a situation way over their heads is a frantic thrill-ride. The intimacy of the found footage makes us feel the reality of the situation. In Day After Tomorrow, it was hard to escape the fact we were watching a blockbuster thriller. We were trapped in the horror of the moment, but at the same time, we were here to be entertained. Emmerich was showing us a performance, a movie with the intent of pleasing an audience. We missed the human aspect, to an extent, and while Cloverfield hardly boasts original characters (the brave everyday hero, the funny but annoying one, the damsel in distress), it slows down to let us feel the emotion pumping throughout their dash across a ruined New York.
It almost makes it throughout the whole movie before it stumbles. While Cloverfield is always moderately entertaining, it does run out of tricks, after a tense showdown in an abandoned subway tunnel. After that, Reeves is almost rushing to the finishing line, in a final twenty minutes that feel like the same scenes we have seen before, but with slight alterations. The problem with found footage is that it makes slowing down feel more criminal. For example, the introduction at the leaving party was stretched as far as it could go, before the audience got restless. As movie-lovers, we want to explore the characters more, but the found footage direction implies a more immediate sense of fun. Things need to be happening, almost constantly – just like my all-time favourite found footage series, [REC.] proved. The new style of cinema is fun for a moment, as well as the clever teasing as to what the disaster is actually caused by, but as soon as the mystery and novelty dies down, Cloverfield is a bit of a floundering creature. It ties itself up neatly enough, albeit using the most illogical jump scare horror has ever tried to sneak past us, but the movie, now a few years old, doesn’t seem like quite the sensational hit that it originally was pitched to be. Maybe the found footage genre is doomed to only ever be this good.
Final Verdict: By pumping a budget into Cloverfield, Abrams gives us the found footage movie we always wanted, even if some of the pitfalls of the sub-genre still remain.