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Movie Review: “Cloverfield” (2008)

Charlene is a Film and Television major. She is a big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Disney, and Stranger Things.

2008's "Cloverfield" is a found footage classic, but it's not without its flaws.

2008's "Cloverfield" is a found footage classic, but it's not without its flaws.

Summary

  • Director: Matt Reeves
  • Writer: Drew Goddard
  • Genre: Horror
  • Runtime: 85 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13
  • Release Date: January 18, 2008
  • Production Company: Bad Robot Productions

A group of New York residents attempt to survive a monstrous invasion, even attempting to go on a rescue mission.

BE FOREWARNED. MAJOR SPOILERS ARE AHEAD!

Found Footage Classic

I love the “found footage” style of this movie. The handheld camera movement means that there is purposefully shaky and sloppy camerawork, and for the most part it is effective in creating a mysterious atmosphere.

Not only does it make the movie feel more realistic and gritty, but it also makes the audience immersed in the experiences of the characters. Instead of switching to different characters throughout the course of the movie, the movie focuses on a single group. It makes the audience feel as if they are physically there with them, and we know as much (and as little) as the characters do.

Gritty and Realistic

This adds to the realism of the movie. When it comes to real life, there isn’t always a survival guide telling us how to react to certain situations. Similarly, the characters in this movie—and the audience—never get to find out the origin of the monsters, and the characters do not get a happy ending. Only one of the six main characters is implied to have survived.

When watching the movie, I was a bit bothered by the cameraman, Hud, constantly standing several feet behind the rest of the group, because in real life he would likely stand much closer. Despite this minor detail, it doesn’t detract from the quality of the movie. The camerawork still makes the movie feel realistic.

Love the Characters, Hate the Plot

The characters feel like real, everyday people to which the audience can relate. They aren’t superheroes. They are just ordinary people, and this movie feels like a documentary of how young adults would react to a monster attack.

The acting feels so natural that it's hard to believe that a script was even used. However, as much as the characters are sympathetic, they are dumb and behave illogically.

The main flaw of the movie is Beth, but not her as a character. She has a sweet personality. My main problem with Beth is how she is used as a plot device or a MacGuffin.

Rescuing Beth is a Plot Contrivance

Plot devices aren’t inherently bad, but sometimes, they aren’t used well. That is what happens here. The group of residents evacuate, and when the Brooklyn Bridge is destroyed, Rob’s brother, Jason, is killed. Rob then gets a call from Beth that she is trapped and injured.

As a result, he goes back into the city to save her. This is the same city that has a large monster and its spider-like parasites roaming around, with the monster being the same one that indirectly killed Jason. Rob is shown to be traumatized by his brother’s death through the phone call with his mother, but by going back into the city where the monster is at, wouldn’t he be worried about getting killed?

Does Rob Really Love Beth?

Maybe Rob wants to save Beth because he wasn’t able to save his brother. I’m surprised that he doesn’t consider the possibilities. She could’ve died right after the phone call, or someone else could’ve rescued her. Luckily, Beth is still alive, but it is unknown what would’ve happened if Rob and the group visited the building only to find that Beth was dead or no longer there.

Again, the point of Rob going back to save Beth is not stated. It may be because they got into an argument and he wants to make it up to her, but I don’t think many people would be willing to try to rescue their lover when the chances of dying along the way—and their lover being dead!—are fairly high

I understand that the journey to save Beth is necessary for the horror elements of the movie, but that's also my point. Rescuing Beth is a plot contrivance. It happens solely for the horror.

Rescuing Beth a Horrific Decision

And there's plenty of horror. Most of the characters die gruesome deaths because of the decision to find Beth. Though Rob doesn’t exactly force Marlena, Hud, and Lily to go with him, the three stick by his side.

While I understand the need to be around others for emotional support, the deaths of Marlena, Hud, and even Rob were preventable. They all might have survived had they evacuated as planned. They could’ve gone on a helicopter that wasn’t destroyed by the monster, sparing them all a terrible demise.

Unique Monster Design

There aren’t many times when the large monster can be seen in full view, leaving the audience to use their imagination regarding its appearance. This definitely adds to the mysterious atmosphere of the movie. The large monster is only shown in its entirety near the end.

I also appreciate the minor background detail in the end credits flashback scene—blink and you'll miss it!—where Rob and Beth are at Coney Island. An object falls from the sky and into the ocean, implying the monster arrival to Earth.

Effective Use of Monster Delay

The design of the monster is unique, and the smaller parasites are creepy. Although the special effects aren’t the best, it is clear that the crew put a lot of care and effort into making sure that the effects and destruction look impressive, despite the film's relatively small $25 million budget.

There is a long history of horror movies with small budgets employing a device called "monster delay." Basically, the more you see the monster, the more you see the limited budget. If you imply the monster, the audience assumes a limitless budget.

There are interesting ways in which the group interacts with these monsters, such as the subway scene. And even though these interactions only happen because of the unwise journey to save Beth, the monsters never feel overdone. They provide a great deal of surprises.

In Conclusion

When it comes to entertainment value only, I’d give Cloverfield a 5/5. It is an entertaining, engaging, and evenly paced movie with a bunch of chaotic fun and panic. I am willing to watch it again. However, watching the movie again also means ignoring the terrible plot that it has.