Person A: RUN!!
Person B: Is it a giant monster?!
Person A: No, it’s another found footage movie!
Person B: Wait, actually, it’s a good one. So stop running and read…
The people behind Cloverfield did an excellent job at building hype before its release.
I remember seeing the trailer on Youtube and being stunned by how great it was. I was desperate to find out more.
Cloverfield is a found footage film. The initial purpose of the camera is to document the leaving part of Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David). He’s moving to Japan and his friends are keen to record messages for him, recounting embarrassing stories and letting know how much he’ll be missed.
But it’s during this party that the city of New York is rocked by a series of explosions, and as the revellers move outside to discover the cause, things quickly fall apart – both the emotions of those present and the buildings that they’re standing in or near.
There’s a giant alien monster in the city and it’s destroying everything in its path.
It sounds silly and all too familiar (Godzilla anyone?) but in fact, the Cloverfield concept is surprisingly well executed.
One of the key strengths of the film is its pace. Things take off quickly and just don’t seem to let off. It’s as if you (the viewer) really are the one gripping the camera, and gripping tightly, like your life depended on it.
The dark city is filled with danger, and as our narrators – 4 kids from the party (including Rob) make their way across it to save someone, the chances of them surviving seem to diminish with every second.
There are all kinds of obstacles. Apart from the giant beast, there are small, spider-like creatures that are just as lethal. There’s also the risk of getting caught in the crossfire as the army attempt to take control of the situation.
In epic features such as this, it’s common for the producers to try to show as many different perspectives of the situation as possible, from different people. This hits home how big the disaster is, but also dilutes the film as the focus shifts too often (2012, Independence Day, Mars Attacks).
By sticking to one viewpoint, Cloverfield is far more successful at generating an atmosphere, and this atmosphere twinned with the unrelenting action is what makes the film so effective and enjoyable.
As with most, if not all, of these found footage films, you do have to wonder if anyone would continue to use a video camera when they’re fighting for their lives. When you only have one hand spare to defend yourself against alien spider monsters, it’s probably time to put the camera down.
But if you can suspend disbelief where that’s concerned, you’ll find that Cloverfield is an excellent example of a found footage film. And if you haven’t seen it already, you should make it a priority.