February 7th, 2008 07:50 EST
Film Review 'What's That Comin Over the Hill (Is it A Monster.)'
Although the Leviathan at the centre of this inspired Monster movie is un-named throughout its debut, I very much doubt that we have seen the last of its ferociously unannounced visits.
Coming in at an impressive 500 feet high, and rather disturbingly described as an immature " specimen suffering from separation anxiety ", insurance premiums on the waterfront are about to go through the roof, as Americas first true answer to Godzilla takes his place in the cinemas pantheon of giant marauding man-eaters.
The genius of Cloverfield " is that the creature almost takes a cameo role in his own film. Abrams` has approached his project with true inspiration, shooting the movie in CinÃ©ma-vÃ©ritÃ© style on a hand-held video camera, from the point of view of one of the groups of stampeding humans trying to get out of its way; rather than going for supposed news crew/military helicopter scenes of the big guy totalling the city in the traditional fashion. By not giving the monster a name its menace is made much more sinister and inexplicable, as somehow I feel that this would diminish the creature`s threat by attempting to make it familiar. This thread is maintained by the fact that we are no clearer at the end of the film as to where the hell it came from, or why on earth it decided to make this devastating visit to Manhattan.
When glimpsed, it is an impressive sight, with six limbs, a long thrashing forked tail, inflating gill-sacs on the sides of its head, and the temper of the devil. It`s impervious to conventional weaponry, and it`s implied that even though the military are forced to level the island of Manhattan to try and take it out, the thing survives the final assault. Wisely, Abrams builds the tension over us getting a glimpse of the beast until quite late in the film, and when we do it`s with a magnificent irony that is not comfortable to view at all, especially for the character of poor old Hud who is documenting the whole thing.
There are many highly original touches to this film which mark it out as something special, and give it a pedigree of its own, alongside its monstrous star. A brave but observant move on the director`s part is to make a movie of this kind using (as yet) unknown actors. This takes away our comfort blanket of unconsciously thinking that Bruce Willis, or Big Arnold, will come piling in at the controls of a Stealth Bomber and save the day. Abrams then delivers a film which has all the hallmarks of reality, coming from the standpoint of someone making a record of these horrific events by accidentally taping over the top of a recording of a happy day out at Coney Island funfair.
The central premise is set up beautifully. We are made privy to the unfolding events surrounding a party for Rob Hawkins, (Michael Stahl-David), and a crisis in his relationship with Beth, (Odete Yustman). Rob has accepted a job in Japan and despite being in love with Beth is intending to just leave, being somewhat in denial of his feelings for her, without committing to, or resolving their affair. Beth angrily leaves the party, and Rob`s brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and best friend Hud, (T.J.Miller) attempt to bring him to his senses over their relationship. This is all beautifully set up by the erstwhile director of Lost ", giving us characters we can all too easily identify with in day to day life, and a situation we all recognise. In these days of everyone recording and uploading their lives onto YouTube it`s all only too familiar and real, but there is sheer genius in Jason handing the camera to Hud.
We all know someone like Hud! A slightly dim but rather lovable mate, who can be totally exasperatingly at times, but for all that you love him to bits. Hud is told to document events, and by god, that`s what he sets out to do! He keeps filming when the central lovers leave the party and have a spat outside by the lift, when Jason`s girlfriend explains why they had a row, and then when he himself goes around telling all their mates that they slept together! Not only is this utterly true to life, but it fills in the back story perfectly. Then, when we hear the first devastating explosion which is our giant uninvited guest arriving, Hud carries on filming throughout until he himself meets really unpleasant end. It`s almost comical in a Warner Brothers way, but by god you feel for the guy!
The apparent earthquake and brief power cut which is our big friend`s calling card drives everyone down onto the street, and this is when the iconic and disturbing shot of the Statue of Liberty`s head bouncing down the road takes place. Although glimpsed in the trailers, when viewing the film we have become part of the characters world, and it has a devastating power. Everyone is panicking, and as a huge something moves across the street downtown a building collapses, and everyone runs to shelter from the debris. The references to 9/11 are inescapable, and reoccur throughout the film, particularly when Rob, Hud and Lilly, (Jessica Lucas), try to climb into Beth`s leaning tower to rescue her, from it`s upright twin.
This is the central point of the film. Something devastating and inexplicable has happened. An attack by something out of the blue which is still present and hostile to our characters throughout the film, yet Rob loves Beth, who is lying injured in her apartment. With no thought for anything other than rescuing her makes his way right into the central area where the beast is on the rampage to get her out, on foot, with his friends. This includes climbing down to rescue her, and getting her out, when the thing itself, hotly pursued by the military, is heading right for them as they climb across the roof. This is the point being made. They are scared witless of this thing, but they know that a loved one is injured and they go back in there to get her out, at the risk of their own lives. This is as human as breathing, and despite the devastating ending of the film, underlines that seminal courage.
Cloverfield " has also been a highly successful experiment in viral marketing, with the studio cleverly keeping mum about the project and releasing tantalising snippets onto the internet, and letting curiosity do its work. It has paid huge dividends, and I myself came to know of it just by its title, mentioned to me by a mate in broadcasting, Hey man, look this up " No-one knows anything about the monster, but it might be Cthulhu ". " The audience at my screening were so impressed by the film that everyone left in silence when it finished, and walking home I caught myself looking over my shoulder occasionally, up at the night sky, slightly nervously. That`s the mark of a good movie!
Part of our ability to survive great catastrophes in life is our ability to represent them in art. It`s part of understanding them, their place in history, and our ability to heal.
Piccasso did this with Guernica, " and this was the original inspiration for both King Kong and Godzilla. The imagery in Cloverfield is inescapable, but it is handled with wisdom and humanity, rather than being a crass exploitation of tragic events. It has set an entirely new benchmark for this kind of movie, and I think we will see more of the hot tempered monster with a statue-busting right hook.