July 3, 2018

Cloverfield (2008)
Grade: 40/100

Director: Matt Reeves
Stars: Michael Stahl-David, Lily Ford, Lizzy Caplan

What it's about. Set in Manhattan. Jason (Mike Vogel) and his hottie girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas) arrange a surprise party for Jason's brother Rob (Michael Stahl-David), who has accepted a job promotion in Japan. Rob's friend Hud (T.J. Miller) is tasked with filming the party on a camcorder.

Hud has a crush on Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), a Goth acquaintance. Rob is still in love with Beth (Odette Yustman), who has recently begun dating Travis (Ben Feldman). Beth leaves the party early with Travis.

Because it is a movie, aliens invade Manhattan during the party. The guests run terrified into the streets. Beth calls Rob, and tells him she is injured and trapped in her apartment. Despite the alien attack, Rob decides to rescue Beth. He is accompanied by Lily, Marlena, and Hud, who is still toting the camcorder and filming everything, because it is a movie.

How others will see it. Cloverfield ranks among among the more costly found footage horror movies. Its budget was 25M, nonetheless a pittance relative to its 170M worldwide gross.

The film was ignored by BAFTA, the Golden Globes, and the Academy Awards. But it did well at second-tier festivals, winning Best Science Fiction Film at the Saturn Awards, and Best Horror Movie at the Golden Schmoes.

Today at imdb.com, Cloverfield has a huge 340K user votes. At 7.0 out of 10, the user ratings are fairly high though less than stellar. As expected, they decline with the advancing age of the viewer, 7.1 under age 45 and 6.7 over age 45. Women over 45 grade it only 6.4, likely disappointed in the ultimate demise of most of the cast (Lily appears to have survived).

At imdb.com, eight of the top nine "most helpful" user reviews grade the movie a ONE out of 10. The ninth grades it only 2. Clearly, there is a strong backlash against Cloverleaf, fueled by the implausibility of the story, the annoyance of the shaky camera, the eternal life of its battery, and the camera's miraculous self-editing capabilities.

How I felt about it. Compared to Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield is Citizen Kane. It has real actors, scary monsters, cool special effects, and a decent script.

The plot has more holes than Swiss cheese, too many to bother listing them all. The Statue of Liberty's head rolls from Liberty Island to Manhattan. The military (complete with tanks) shows up within minutes of the invasion. Rob's obsession with checking on his former girlfriend is exceeded only by his obsession to risk his life (and those of his pals) to rescue a woman who has dumped him, and is probably dead. It's Finding Nemo meets Mars Attacks!.

As with all found camcorder footage horror movies, the most implausible thing of all is that characters running for their lives insist on toting this awkward camcorder with them, while giving the theatrical audience motion sickness.

But it is hard to blame the producers who turn out such movies, when the audience keeps buying tickets to see them. The commercial success (and artistic failure) of The Blair Witch Project established a model for greedy filmmakers to follow. At least Cloverfield delivers the goods in terms of alien monsters, though Starship Troopers (1997) is a lot more fun and won't make you nauseous.