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Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, 2008)
A new entry in the burgeoning camcorder horror subgenre, Matt Reevesí Cloverfield doesnít do much to take advantage of its once-novel approach to narrative delivery. Instead, it lamely mashes together a monster movie plot with questionable, post-9/11 visual cues, resulting in a movie that might feel more offensive if it were any more effective. Spielbergís War of the Worlds used some of the imagery that pops up here, but channeled it into an overpowering aura of anxiety and alienation that reflected the mood of its era. Cloverfield is more universal in its approach, it can be argued, but that is only because it is more generic. The recent I Am Legend certainly got better usage out of the Manhattan cityscape. Here, despite a plot that follows a group of young hipsters hiking by foot to a handful of landmarks, the city feels bizarrely anonymous. Reeves seems to use this particular city at this particular time not to make any rhetorical point, but only because he lacks the imagination to come up with something that he hasnít already glimpsed on the news or in a better film.
The Blair Witch Project and Diary of the Dead proved that this handheld format is completely viable and sustainable in feature length horror films, but itís difficult to even consider Cloverfield a horror film, since in its action scenes, itís far more concerned with spectacle than suspense. The second half features plenty of moments where people flee through city streets, but even those bits are so subsidiary to the half-baked character interactions that the movie is probably best considered a mumblecore relationship drama first and foremost. On those terms, which are just about the only terms by which one could judge it for twenty minutes or so, itís abysmal. The cast of self-absorbed young hipsters vapidly chronicle their own, thankfully short, lives.
Once the film begins to indulge in monster movie conventions, it scarcely improves. Never for a moment does it achieve any kind of you-are-there verisimilitude. It is too badly constructed and too chock full of implausible character motivations to pull you in. The sitcom-ready cast and hokey effects conspire to undercut any tension or wonderment. The monster itself is nothing to speak of. It seems to have been designed to actively evade any subtextual interpretations. It simply exists, like everything in Cloverfield, as empty spectacle. Ultimately a feature-length tease, the movie remarkably insubstantial and uninvolving for something that tries so desperately to live in the moment. The most disturbing thing about it, in fact, is the way that it suggests that a large portion of the population (and the creative community) simply processed the 9/11 attacks as yet another demonstration of movie magic.