As a kid with a penchant for squashing ants, spiders, and various other critters, my parents often reminded me that, “insects have families, too.” Supposedly I wasn’t just stomping on some random insect; instead, I was led to believe that I was ending the life of some bug who may have simply returning home from a long day at work; an insect with a wife and kids, just trying to make an honest living.
In J.J. Abrahm’s Cloverfield, we’re the insects.
Cloverfield (a throwaway name that means nothing) opens with Rob, a twenty-something-year-old executive who’s just been promoted to vice-president, showing up to his own surprise going-away party. A group of Rob’s pals including his brother Jason, Jason’s fiancee Lilly, and Rob’s best friend Hud have invited dozens of young, beautiful people to the party. Unfortunately for them (and the rest of New York), one uninvited guest shows up as well — a giant space lizard monster thingy, hell bent on destroying Manhattan.
Presented exclusively through shaky (headache-inducing*) hand-held footage shot by Hud, the audience knows exactly what the film’s stars know — which is to say, not much. The group quickly learns where not to stand when the Statue of Liberty’s head comes rolling down the street, and it turns out crossing bridges on foot isn’t such a good idea either. Matters are complicated when creepy mutant spider-tick things show up to continue the assault. Our protagonists story is one of confusion and survival.
The oddest thing about this film was that the monster may be the most realistic thing about it. I spent the majority of the film being baffled by pretty much every decision every character made. I suppose panicking citizens are expected to act like idiots (“let’s run ten miles back toward the monster to check on a friend who’s probably dead!”), but the way the military is portrayed is completely idiotic. Would soldiers really show up with M-16s to shoot at a 50-story-tall monster? At one point, our protagonists are told about a raundevous point where civilians will be air lifted out of New York to safety, three at a time. My, how far we’ve come from Katrina.
Cloverfield has been receiving mixed reviews, and I can understand why. While plenty of questions are presented within the confines of the film, very few of them are answered. If you are the type of person who enjoys sitcoms that wrap everything up in a neat little bundle once a week, this film is not for you. If, however, you’d like to experience what monster-geddon might look like from the ground level, Cloverfield does a pretty decent job. Just don’t forget a healthy supply of dramamine (for before), aspirin (for after), and suspension of belief (for during).
(*At least. A girl three rows back from us vomited twenty minutes into the film. Cloverfield is like the Blair Witch all over again, times ten.)