5 May 2008

CLOVERFIELD (Dir. Matt Reeves, 2007, US) - Post 9-11 Anxiety: The Monster Movie

Why is Cloverfield called Cloverfield? Well, to be honest, I don’t know either. But perhaps if you checked on wikipedia, somebody might be able to tell you. Recently, Hollywood have somehow felt compelled to spoil the pleasure of watching a film by making sure they ruin the experience for us before we even get into the cinema. Trailers no longer promote a movie in the way that they should do, which is to tease the audience with imagery and information, not deliberately give away detailed plot points and the best bits from the expensive action sequences. What this seems to suggest is that Hollywood simply does not trust their product anymore and that an enigmatic trailer that is constructed to reveal nothing but entice us, and excite us is somewhat of a rarity in an age that leaves nothing to the imagination of the cinematic spectator.

The real coup of Cloverfield has been the hugely successful labyrinth like marketing campaign pushed by Paramount and ingeniously concocted by the creator of Lost, J J Abrams, who was right not to give into the temptation of plastering the image of the terrifying monster all over the posters and trailers. In the summer of 1999, Hollywood studios took notice of the phenomenal success of the low budget independent film, The Blair Witch Project. This was the first film to truly exploit the Internet, a new media promotional tool, as a means of marketing a film so that it would become an International box office smash. For a moment, Hollywood seemed to be dumbfounded by the short-lived economically cost effective prospect of Digital Video rising up to become the new ascendancy in contemporary film-making. Obviously, it is clear now that The Blair Witch Project was very much a one-off success story, and though the film did not allow the film-maker’s to launch their careers in Hollywood, it did provide a telling lesson in how to promote a film by what has today become commonly known as ‘viral’ marketing.

Costing $30 million to produce, Cloverfield has been categorised as a contemporary monster movie that takes place in Manhattan, New York. I had serious doubts about this film from the outset as the first twenty minutes is made up of obnoxious and deeply pretentious characters who are either grotesquely attractive or mindlessly dumb. Hud, one of Rob’s best friend’s is given the task of documenting the personal testimonies of the people at a farewell party being given in the honour of Rob who is leaving to start a new job in Japan. The problem with such a conceit is that I found it very difficult sympathising with any of the characters as they seem to have been underwritten, and exist as extensions of a Yuppie lifestyle that is both superficial and false. In no way does the film go on to criticise the self involved and model like lives of the characters, but instead chooses to utilise the characters merely as a means of furthering the narrative and turning the remainder of the film into an extended chase film that seems to work quite effectively as a commentary on post 9-11 anxieties and fears.

What makes the film a worth while cinematic experience is the visceral nature of the episodic narrative and the immensely satisfying spectacle of a cleverly designed monster that seems to have taken inspiration from recent Korean monster movie, The Host. Like most Hollywood high concept films that involve a monster of some kind, conflict between man and creature is conservatively resolved by the end of the film in unambiguous terms, but however, for a blockbuster and high concept film like Cloverfield, it rejects many of the traditional conventions of the genre, offering us an ending that is indicative of non closure.

The only real problem with a film like Cloverfield is that it is highly dependent on hype and buzz, and is a film that is instantly forgettable, a lot like the majority of Hollywood High Concept films released each year by the studios.

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