Sunday, January 20, 2008
The thought of possibly seeing a worse film in 2008 than Cloverfield has me thoroughly depressed. There are certainly people who will respond to this film and what it’s attempting to do but it is first, last and thoroughly fraudulent; both painfully wedded and conveniently indifferent to its high-concept premise resulting in a film that’s satisfying neither as a post-modern experiment nor a monster movie.
Say what you will about The Blair Witch Project, and for the record I thought it was pretty close to being a masterpiece seven and a half years ago (my God has it been that long?) but the compulsive need to document a waking nightmare in that film was derived from boredom, frustration and loneliness. So much of the horror in that film came from documenting after the fact, as though recording it on camera would somehow make it all more real and easier to comprehend.
Here we have a bunch of asses walking around downtown Manhattan, fending off Godzilla (or whatever the fuck it is), lice monsters, falling bridges, fireballs, and military gunfire and for whatever reason they keep the camera rolling, dutifully pointing the lens at whatever complications come their way. Scaling the face of a building, carrying an injured friend, attacking giant spider monsters: these activities are best accomplished with two hands no matter what the Bad Robot people would have you believe.
So much of the film’s design is built around its perceived verisimilitude from the way the monster remains mostly just outside the frame (all the better, once we actually see it in daylight it’s terrible looking) to the approximation of “real time” to the way exposition is mostly foregone in favor of panic and unexpected revelation. Yet, at its core, the film is utterly false, traipsing on crude 9/11 imagery (Spielberg failed in this regard, don’t know why anyone thought the guy who created “Felicity” and wrote Under Siege 2 would succeed) in the service of an utterly bullshit rescue plot that flies in the face of both common sense and the audience’s presumed desire to see these people survive. How much of a routing interest is there really when every character on-screen lacks self-preservation instinct?
Of course it’s arguable whether we ever would have cared about these people even if they did put the camera down and not continuously walk towards the big scary monster tearing down buildings. Drawn from the J.J. Abrams model of self-absorbed Yuppie c*nts (the man’s legacy as a storyteller will no doubt be his affinity for pretty, affluent, vapid, white people in spacious apartments), Cloverfield finds us hurtling towards eminent danger to save a pretty girl our hero banged once and surprisingly indifferent to all the friends and family picked off along the way. Because really, what are they worth next to the girl you had a one-night-stand with who a few hours ago you’d resigned to never seeing again?
The film’s documentary approach is meant to lend extra insight into an extraordinary event yet its very existence only creates distance. We never feel like actors aren’t performing for the camera’s benefit, riffing about pop culture at inopportune times or babbling incessantly in an encouraged improvisational style (maybe we need the writers back on the job after all). Grief is predominantly ignored or swept under the carpet almost instantaneously. Emotional resonance comes in self-contained doses that don’t carry over to subsequent scenes. We don’t really get a sense of the toll the evening has taken on the characters, the fear and frustration that they should be going through having spent the night scurrying away from a giant lizard creature, let alone the annoyance of a douche bag shoving a camera in their face while they bleed out onto the floor.
In attempting to be realer than real, the film only reinforces the monster movie clichés it’s strenuously trying to avoid. In showing us how “normal, everyday” people would react in this situation it couldn’t be any less insightful or recognizably human.
Gun to my head, I’d rather watch Devlin & Emmerich’s Godzilla again.