CLOVERFIELD is a giant monster movie that’s the flipside of all those pictures from the 1950s. You know the ones I mean - well-loved pictures like TARANTULA, GODZILLA and the like, that featured something horrible and massive relentlessly destroying all that lay before it until the military, usually aided by a crusty old scientist and a girl in an unfeasible rocket bra, solved the problem with the aid of some heavy artillery and a complete lack of concern about its after effects on the environment. When they weren’t subjecting shreddie characters to the rampaging thing, those old movies tended to concentrate on the scientists and military characters, all sweating it out in some sparse set with perhaps a few test tubes and a microscope that would be used to find the miracle cure while the monster carried on happily rampaging, but always at a safe distance. CLOVERFIELD takes the point of view of those who are, or are about to become, victims of said rampaging, the ones who have no idea what is going on, and are too busy avoiding the collapsing tower blocks and explosions caused by the unexplained thing that has dropped into their midst.
Making CLOVERFIELD a found footage picture was a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand the immediacy and terror of such a situation is conveyed all the more effectively, on the other there’s the constant slight nagging problem that no-one in such a situation would realistically hang onto their camera, let alone keep filming when one’s friends were being attacked by hideous jumpy spider things. Nevertheless, if one can overcome that particular plot difficulty, which I have to say I had very little problem with simply because the rest of the film is so good, then CLOVERFIELD really is worth a watch, as long as you can stand the shakycam.
The film depicts the fallout from a giant monster attack on Manhattan, all filmed from the point of view of a group of twenty-somethings who have been attending a leaving party for their friend Rob (Michael Stahl-David). They get caught up in a mass exodus over the Brooklyn Bridge but when that’s destroyed by the tail of Something Massive they end up trapped in the city, with a race against time to save Rob’s girlfriend Beth (Odette Yustman) who’s trapped under a girder in her 39th floor teetering apartment building before the final helicopter takes off and the military, in time-honoured fashion, bomb the shit out of everything.
It’s a commendably brief film and sets up its characters well, the narrative being ably assisted by the clever device of having the tape that’s being recorded on having been used earlier in the day by Rob and Beth, and we get to see snippets of that as the movie progresses. The movie was written by Drew Goddard of CABIN IN THE WOODS fame, so it’s perhaps not surprising that this is a film that knows its giant monster movie rules and does a splendid job of subverting them. The giant monster is never given a name or an explanation, and its appearance is revealed gradually throughout the film in a way that does its 1950s sci-fi origins proud. The icing on the cake is the collection of horrid little parasite things it seems to have brought with it, leading to some memorable scenes in the subway and at least one spectacular death.
One would have assumed that the giant monster movie was dead, and recent efforts like SKYLINE and BATTLE LOS ANGELES have certainly done their best to kill it off again, or at least return it to the domain of the Grade Z drive in picture. CLOVERFIELD is, however, a very different beast, and one worth watching if you’ve not yet had the chance.