The Blair Witch Project has a lot to answer for, given its status as the harbinger of the ‘viral marketing’ craze that has swept the internet world in the past few years. For months the world of online science fiction movie fans has been buzzing with rumours and gossip, with websites devoted to analysing Cloverfield trailers frame by frame, and fans of J.J. Abrams whipping themselves into a frenzy. At last, Cloverfield is here and the big question is does it deliver?
Michael Stahl-David is Rob, a young New Yorker just about to jet off to Japan for a great work opportunity, whose friends are celebrating at a surprise going away party organised by his brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and Jason’s girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas). Rob’s best friend Hud (T.J. Miller) is filming it all so Rob will have something to remember them by if he is ever lonely while abroad. When disaster strikes the city, they will face incredible dangers in their struggle to survive.
To give away any more of the plot would be a disservice to the film and its marketing – despite fans spending many hours poring over every frame of the trailer, only hints at what the film is about have surfaced and the fun is really in the finding out. It isn’t ruining anything, however, to explain that the entire film is what is contained on the video camera Hud is carrying. The introduction of the characters through to their final outcomes… all is as seen via Hud’s lens. No further explanatory information is provided, with details given only through the characters’ interactions and reactions to their environment.
This conceit is maintained throughout, and is the most remarkable feature of this otherwise relatively straightforward disaster film – it is also its worst. That his camera manages to stay with the action at all suggests Hud has more experience than most, but the constant movement and intermittent loss of focus will provoke nausea in even the most tolerant of viewers. The technique is justifiable given the ‘video record’ conceit and thus far more satisfying and acceptable than the cinematography in films like The Bourne Ultimatum – perhaps we are supposed to believe Hud was following Jason Bourne across those rooftops in Tangier? That it is justifiable does not mean it is any easier to watch.
The character introductions are efficient and skilful (although many of them are never fully fleshed out people), and their reactions to what is going on around them are realistic and believable. The action is exciting and the gradual revelation of their foe, although reminiscent of the build-up in Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla and many other disaster flicks, allows the intrigue to build effectively. It is a bit of a letdown when everything finally becomes clear to the characters (and thus to the audience), however, and the decision to introduce ‘other problems’ (deliberately obscure) seems unneccessary and distracting.
Using an experimental technique to tell its story Cloverfield successfully manages to create tension and excitement in spite of the limitations it must endure, and yet without those limitations it becomes just another tale in which a ragtag bunch must survive catastrophe. For the fans who have so eagerly awaited it, however, Cloverfield is likely to satisfy.Rating: