Sunday, September 21, 2008

Matt Reeves, "Cloverfield" (2008).

For the last year or so I've been pining for the release of an intelligent and atmospheric horror movie. That type of product is rarely forthcoming from the American film industry. Hollywood producers seem mostly concerned with establishing a commercially successful franchise that they can ride for several films, building on name recognition and familiarity. Alternatively their product is so chock-full of big budget special effects that there is very little room left for compelling characters or an interesting storyline. Much has been made out of the supposed return to the 70's approach to horror filmmaking. I simply don't see it. Hungry viewers still need to look abroad for quality movies in this genre.

Of course one can always hope. I still scan the Onion A/V Club and Amazon for the latest releases in the theater and on DVD. I'll still pick up a title that shows promise, especially if I need one last movie to get that special deal on previewed discs at Blockbuster or Hollywood Video. I try to pay special attention to what appear to be "indie-films", although marketers have gotten better at exploiting the promise of a "diamond-in-the-rough". Flicks like The Blair Witch Project and Session 9 seemed to pop up out of nowhere, and it seems inevitable that a similar work of art will eventually be made. Generally the less hype associated with a film, the more likely I am to consider watching it. I have high standards.

When Cloverfield was released earlier this year, my interest was piqued. It got a fair amount of positive reviews from the sources I trust. It had a no-name cast and was created by a first-time feature director. Somehow (either because it genuinely was "below-the-radar" or due to the fact that I'm not tuned in to mainstream media) I really didn't know what Cloverfield was supposed to be about. Truthfully, that contributed to my enjoyment of the film. If you haven't yet seen it and think that you might- perhaps you should stop reading now. While the mystery is revealed early enough, it does add something to the experience and the anticipation helps you get through the rather annoying party scenes at the beginning.

Part of the difficulty with a story revolving around the unexplained appearance of a horrendous monster is the distraction that the thing entails. If some monumental creature is attacking NYC, it's going to be awfully difficult for the characters to compete with it. So it's a bit naïve of the director to truly believe he can make the audience care about the players. Still he gamely attempts to bring their personalities and relationships into focus. It's too bad really, because by the time that Reeves introduces his elements of destruction, I'd already come to hate most of the actors. The interactions between them is just too pro forma. This is not a film that works at the level of the individual.

Having said that, Cloverfield does have its entertaining moments. It's main asset is its setting. Manhattan does a yeoman's job of engaging the audience. Obviously the filmmakers have exploited the feelings and memories arising from "the day everything changed". I don't know how 9-11 survivors have reacted to the doomsday scenario of this flick, but I was captivated by the mayhem caused by the monster. It's pretty easy to relate to the panic that ensues when people start feeling trapped on the island. And Cloverfield is kept to a very reasonable 84 minutes (with more than ten of those devoted to the credits). That left its creators free from the onerous tasks of explaining how and why everything happened the way it did. Many thanks are due the editors.

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Anonymous Steve said...

Damn you, Merge. You seem to have my exact same view on the current state of modern horror flicks. I'm so sick of the Gore-porn (Saw 2-5, Hostel, etc.) films that have come to dominate the genre.

I personally loved Cloverfield, but I think that was because I saw it in the theater. On the big screen, you really got a feel for what it would be like to be at street-level in a catastrophe like that. Also, did you have to catch the little visual nugget at the end? In the closing shot of the couple on Coney Island, you can see something drop from the sky and land in the water. Not a huge deal, but I love easter eggs like that in a movies.

11:44 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Across the political divide, common ground is found...

I did see that object fall into the water... but only after I looked around the net a bit, and got tipped off to it. Apparently it plays in to the whole back-story of the movie. I'm sure they'll be making reference to it in the sequel.

My recommendation for a somewhat-recent atmospheric horror gem is Session 9. Have you seen it?

4:40 PM  
Anonymous steve said...

I have not, but I just watched the trailer on YouTube and I'm in. Anything involving the Danvers Insane Asylum has my attention. I'll have to see if I can't pick up a copy off Amazon or something.

8:57 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Cool. Let me know what you think of it when you do see it. It is among my all-time favorites.

9:10 PM  
Anonymous Steve said...

I ordered Session 9 yesterday on Amazon. Can't wait for it to get here!

10:37 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


If possible, try to watch it alone and in near total darkness.

11:08 PM  

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