Once again giving credence to the ravings of lunatics as well as the occasional heart-warming personal essay, I went to see Cloverfield tonight. Wow, it’s been some months since I felt that jacked by a movie. The buzz all over the net is that this thing is a harrowing, brilliant thrill ride; in fact, as far as I’m concerned it’s an embarrassing, amateurish piece of crap.
By “amateurish” I don’t mean “lo-fi.” The alternative format is the only thing the flick had going for it. I was excited to see Cloverfield because I thought this handheld camera thing was a great idea, maximizing the storytelling possibilities of democratized media and just generally shaking things up. That’s how I felt about Blair Witch, right until I hurled my cookies around the beginning of Act 2.
With Cloverfield I never even got that far; the flick had me hooked before I ever walked in the door, and managed to completely alienate me in the first 3 minutes. The flat characters of Blair Witch are magnificently sublime and amazingly complex compared to the annoying yuppie fuckbags of Cloverfield. These useless ciphers are right out of central casting, which has led some reviewers to claim that they’re Everyman characters of the sort in H.G. Wells’s original The War of the Worlds. In fact, these characters are just craptastic stick figures drawn by a small child with a crayon. If this was what “Everyman” was like, I would have killed myself years ago. But they’re infinitely more interesting than the even less complex stereotypes that blunder in and out of the movie’s point-of-view — primarily soldiers, who speak in an embarassingly flat military pidgin that makes 24’s worst clunkers seem authentic, and recite Einsteinian news flashes in a staccato parade of “As You Know, Bob”s that seem right out of a GI Joe cartoon or a Mack Bolan novel.
All of that is essentially unforgivable, but the movie still could have been a rockin’ good time if the thrillride had provided any actual thrills. Instead, we get a 90-minute parade of nausea-inducing camera swirls from a chowderheaded cameraman who, whenever anything interesting happens — like, oh, say a giant monster eating Manhattan, for instance — points the camera everywhere the monster isn’t. In story terms, we’re supposed to believe that it’s because he’s scared and confused, but I’m sorry, no one sees a giant monster eating Manhattan and doesn’t stare at it for a second. It’s probably for the better, though, because when we finally get a good look it’s a weird looking lizard thing that doesn’t make physical sense; the creature design is right out of the Mos Eisley Spaceport’s list of fourth-string discards.
Last but far from least, the most eggregious cliches in this movie are lifted wholesale from other movies — from the nuke attack to the baby Godzillas to the devoured-from-the-inside parasitic alien bite; there’s even a moment when the female main character, the camera close to her face, hysterically sobs “I — am — so — scared,” in either homage or theft, but who cares? It’s weak, empty, pathetic, and crazymaking.
If this is the derivative crap America’s movie critics rave about, next time I’ll stay home.