‘Cloverfield’ Review: Hype, Hype, Hype

Posted in Screening Room by - June 03, 2015

Ugh. That’s about as much as I want to write for my first review for this month on the topic of one of the most over-hyped films of the last ten years, Cloverfield. The worst part about the film is that I totally bought into the viral marketing campaign, getting sucked into websites like 1-18-08.com and MissingTeddyHanssen.com. They built a world around a quick trailer that didn’t even name the film it was advertising. 

The trailer was something else; it was the first time that I had seen a trailer that sold me on the movie without telling me anything. There was an explosion and some unseen force was behind it. There were rumors of it being Ultron, or a new Godzilla film, but neither came to fruition. What we got instead was a boring, trite, 21st century take on the classic monster movie formula. It is a wrote, by-the-numbers monster film that has a thick coat of glass all over it to cover up its shortcomings.

The film follows a group of 20-something yuppies as they throw a surprise going-away party for their friend Rob. The whole film is told through through a hand-held camera that one of the characters was using to capture goodbye testimonials for Rob. During the party; however, a monster begins to attack the city, throwing the city into a state of emergency. Rob, along with his best friend, his brother, his brother’s girlfriend, and her best friend, try to escape, but find out Rob’s on/off girlfriend Beth is trapped in her high-rise apartment. She had previously left the party after her and Rob had gotten into a fight over time they had spent together earlier in the week. The rest of the film follows the five of them making the trek through the city to rescue her.

The only two recognizable actors in the film are Lizzy Caplan and T.J. Miller, and they are, coincidentally, the best part of the film. It’s unfortunate because Miller spends most of the film behind the camera, but his narration is a constant high point throughout, even if his character is a total goon. Caplan plays Marlena, who only went to the party because she was a friend of Rob’s brother’s girlfriend. She is sarcastic and turns down Miller’s advances on her at every turn. The two of them have obviously gone onto bigger and better things, Miller with Silicon Valley and Caplan with Masters of Sex. They are the only two sympathetic characters in the film, with the others just being cookie cutter yuppies. 

The most disappointing things about the film are that the creature design just doesn’t live up to the Jaws-like way they build up to seeing it. The creature, named Clover, is a muddy mess of a monster. It is long and lanky yet with no real discernible definition due to the unfortunate gray color palate used. They were attempting to create a memorable and possibly franchise-worthy monster, and instead it looks more like a run of the mill monster that would show-up on a SyFy channel original movie. They hide the fact the monster is not an interesting or scary to look at by not showing the monster full on until the last ten minutes of the film. Even then, they hide it behind smoke to mask the lacking creature design. 

The other problem with the film is that the story only works if you tell it from the point of view of a handy-cam as opposed to a more traditional multi-camera approach. If the film had been made with a traditional approach, it would have been relegated to the SyFy channel as one of their weekly movies. There is a distinct lack of character depth that is indicative of a film that relies solely on the gimmick of found-footage as opposed to wanting to tell a compelling story. It’s surprising that the film was produced by JJ Abrams as a fair amount of his success as a filmmaker has come from creating characters that are not only interesting, but also deep. It feels as if his name was added to the credits to bring credibility to a film that would otherwise be seen as an amateurish approach to the monster formula.

Cloverfield was all hype and no substance. The whole film was predicated on the buildup to it and it didn’t deliver, as films that are built up much rarely do. The viral marketing campaign leading up to the film ended up being more entertaining on the whole than the film, most likely because we, as the captivated audience, were convinced the creators had an interesting story to setup. There are better found-footage monster movies out there, namely Apollo 18, which actually shows up later this month. This film will go down, for me at least, as one of the most over-hyped films I’ve seen, and one that ushered in a found-footage renaissance that resulted in more poorly made films than worthwhile ones.

Final Say: Skip It

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Chris Stachiw is the Editor-in-Chief and co-host of the Kulturecast. He's a native Californian with a penchant for sarcasm and a taste for the cinematic bizarre. You'll often find him wandering the wasteland of Nebraska searching for the meaning of life and possibly another rare Pokemon.
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