The latest blockbusting behemoth from the people behind Lost is an attempt to re-imagine the monster-movie genre, but it is something of a mixed bag in more ways than one. The film depicts the efforts of a group of New Yorkers to escape death at the hands of an initially unseen assailant, their struggle captured on a handheld video camera.
Unfortunately, the initial scenes are incredibly tedious, populated with paper-thin characters who, despite being impossibly beautiful and achingly stylish, are so lacking in charisma that the knowledge of their impending doom becomes the only reason to keep watching. Once the action begins, though, the intensity of the camera movement, and all the visceral exhibition of human misery that it captures, is often incredibly powerful. The first-person view also contributes to a beautifully measured sense of scale and excites a broad range of emotions, from stomach-turning vertigo in teetering skyscrapers to heart-in-mouth tension at being chased through subway tunnels by bizarre, snapping beasties.
Once introduced, the monster itself is impressive, though as CGI becomes increasingly common in film, it's hard to be wowed by its appearance. Despite this, the conflict between the monster and the US military is a treat.
Somewhat unpleasantly, however, the makers go on to exploit the imagery of 9/11, in the scenes documenting the initial attack. While perhaps a commentary on a collective reaction to collective assault, this exploitation, though brief, feels a little distasteful, given the ultimately juvenile context of the film.
It is hard not to feel that many of Cloverfield's principal elements have been done before, and often better. It borrows heavily from films such as The Blair Witch Project, Godzilla and the Alien series without really offering anything new. The storyline is merely a device to drag a group of boring stereotypes through a war zone and doesn't really work on its own merits. The decision to use unknown actors was brave, though the lack of a decent script means none come out with any real improvement in their standing. And while the cinematography is a triumph, the number of borrowed elements, whether intentional or not, gives the impression that its creators found themselves unable to truly bring anything new to the genre.
Cloverfield is enjoyable for what it does well, though the viewer will have to endure a degree of tedium before these moments arise. Nonetheless, this is certainly a film worth seeing, even if you do ultimately come out rooting for the monster.
James Clarke, teaching assistant, AylesburyReuse content