Tuesday, February 26, 2008


It takes a while for the monster to appear in Cloverfield, but that’s OK, because up until then I was at an imaginary shooting range, picking up the yuppies on screen one by one, or, when I felt like it, en masse. I know these people, I thought, as I watched the party get under way. I know them very well. In fact, I am one of them.

I saw the film in one of those cinemas where they serve beer, and had a very pleasant experience. That I was drinking while watching people drink at a party most definitely increased my involvement. It would have been even more pleasant had the amative couple behind me been less interested in their sporadic, and rather noisy, bouts of tonsil tennis, but, looking back, it most definitely added to the experience, good or bad. Like my grandmother always said, “You haven’t seen a giant monster film until you have seen it with a couple going at it behind you.” I can only hope she wasn’t being euphemistic, god rest her soul.

The film starts off with a random guy, let’s call him Yuppie Prime, as he turns on a handicam and starts to film his latest conquest while she sleeps (the audience sees everything through this camera’s perspective – as everyone and their mother know by now). Anyway, it turns out that she’s not just a random girl, but his on-again/off-again girlfriend, his one true Yuppie Love, and they eventually decide on a day-trip to Coney Island. All of a sudden, the film cuts to a month or so later, and we find out that Yuppie Prime’s friends are using the camera to film his going-away party to Japan. The film keeps cutting back and forth between the party at a Manhattan loft and the ensuing events around the city, and the day trip to Coney Island. It’s an admittedly clever conceit, especially since we all know yuppies are fucking useless when it comes to working anything electronic. I know I am.

Anyway, there’s a party, and it’s a surprise, and happy, happy, happy. As in similar ones in real life, I couldn’t tell the beautiful people at the leaving do apart – but for a few faces whom I could recognize from TV. The girl, who explodes after she’s bitten by a parasite later on in the movie, was on The Class (she was also in the awesome teen-comedy Mean Girls). One of the random friends at the party played the annoying Kirby on Frasier, and even Jason Cerbone aka Jackie Aprile Jr aka Little Lord Fuckpants from The Sopranos’ third season has a blink-and-you’ll-miss (literally, a second and a half at the most) part (he’s too small to have cameos) as a police officer. But I digress…

Yuppie Love comes to the party with a date, probably not realizing that it’s her ex’s leaving do. Awk-ward. Yuppie Prime and Yuppie Love have a row, and she leaves, and everyone gets on the roof to celebrate. Or that’s what I think happens. Then there’s a huge explosion somewhere, and the crowd rushes out to the street in panic as the head of the Statue of Liberty is hurled across from the horizon like a particularly non-aerodynamic baseball and lands right there on the street. There is a nice sequence here as the camera picks up, along with a very quick shot of one of the monster’s legs, random disembodied voices: “That was huge,” “I can’t believe it,” and, my favourite, “It’s alive!” Yuppie Prime, Yuppie Bro, his girlfriend, the exploding girl, and the Seth Rogen-lookalike operating the camera, start legging it out of the city, and just as they get to the Brooklyn Bridge, Yuppie Prime receives a phone call from Yuppie Love who says that she’s stuck under rubble in her apartment. The bridge collapses, Yuppie Bro dies, and the rest of the posse decide to go and rescue Yuppie Love. And then they all die.

There’s a lot to enjoy, especially in the earlier sequences, and the film is innovative in its own way (though not, as some say, groundbreaking – there are conventional cuts a-plenty during the party scenes, and later as the posse arrive at the rudimentary military hospice). The sense of realism is well balanced with the sheer ludicrousness of a fucking monster attacking NYC. From what I understand, the Japanese had something to do with the creature. That’s a long way to travel just to eat yuppies. Then again, yuppies travel a long way just to eat Kobe beef.

What I did find annoying was the glib allusion to the tragic events of the 9/11 attacks. The filmmakers argued during the press tour that any connection was not only incidental, but also totally unintentional. I don’t know about that. The first thing that one of the characters questions right after the first explosion is whether this isn’t another terrorist attack – and that’s perfectly fair. The images that follow – skyscrapers collapsing into piles of rubble and smoke, the ensuing clouds of dust covering the entire street, paper from collapsing buildings floating in the air, widespread panic and confusion in the streets – are all lasting memories of that horrible day. The producers should have had the courage of their convictions, and come right flat out and admitted their intentions to manipulate the audience in order to underscore the threat. This was a huge problem I had with the execrable 300 and the risible Apocalypto, too – we are not stupid, even though we might spend our hard earned cash watching stupid movies sometimes. Cloverfield is not maliciously subtextual like those two pieces of shit, but it is dishonest in its own way.

Technically speaking, the film succeeds on two levels that are somewhat intertwined. The monster is not revealed at first, even while all sorts of shit is going down, and this is obviously a lesson learned from Jaws. Once brief glimpses start to appear, we only see bits of the monster – a leg here, a tail there, its jaw agape over the camera – SHIT!. This was the same concept behind Anish Kapoor’s enormous sculpture Marsyas, which was exhibited at the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. It was so massive that one couldn’t grasp the whole installation all at once, and had to put the image together in one’s head. Similarly with the Cloverfield monster, we put the pieces together in our minds, and essentially come up with a grander, far scarier, design than anything on screen. Only at the end of the movie, as the heroes flee the city in a helicopter, do we get a final, authoritative glance at the creature.

And it’s rubbish. It’s just a very poorly designed monster – a cross between that hybrid baby from the fourth Alien flick, that worm thing from The X-Files, and Sloth from The Goonies. I couldn’t help but question the creature’s evolutionary path. What the fuck does it need an opposable thumb for? Ahh, I see – to pick up yuppies. It all makes perfect sense now.

Note: Quentin Tarantino once mentioned an idea he had of a similar premise to the film. It would be a romantic comedy set in the Toho Universe, with regular monster reports on the telly like weather reports. “Drivers can expect long delays on the Tanba IC as Mothra’s currently going apeshit over Kyoto,” and all that…


Anonymous said...


“You haven’t seen a giant monster film until you have seen it with a couple going at it behind you.”

I nearly choked on that whilst eating my lunch. Impressive review, and bless your grandmother's heart. (^_^)

~ Robert from Taiwan