I don’t appreciate found-footage films. Now that is said. But Cloverfield executes this concept much better than most films. The film, which is directed by Matt Reeves, offers no interesting characters, no exhilarating plot, and no groundbreaking special effects, but it is still manages to capture the viewer’s attention and keeps it for the entire film. One reason this may be is due to J.J. Abram’s– the producer of this film– comfort with making the viewer ask a dozen questions that never truly get answered; this film does remind me a lot of Lost. There are also many moments throughout the film that are truly terrifying and thrilling even if they are mildly predictable.
The screenplay for this film is nothing special. The film opens with around 20 minutes of chit-chatter and murmuring and mumbling that in time provides nothing to the plot or characters yet tries to serve all the background story we need. As most viewers would probably agree, this is not the background knowledge that we want the most; honestly the monster or monsters that are attacking New York are recognizably more interesting than the gossip about the main characters. Other than those 20 first minutes the screenplay is mostly yelling and screaming as a gang of ‘survivors’ run through New York to save a friend. The story is decently paced and does create some decent rushes and moments of (not-so-strong) character development that seemed to compliment each other well. The concept of not giving the motivations or background story of the monster plaguing the city of New York may be a touch frustrating to the viewer, but does make the story more compelling and puts the viewer in the shoes of the main characters in a very well-crafter way, and provides for wonderful opportunities to create your own fan theories; my favorite being the dual-monster theory, which makes sense and could be a good explanation for the way-too-frequent run-ins the characters have with the monster.
The special effects of the film are not ground-breaking, they’re in most cases also a little cheesy and blurry. This especially applies to the CGI work done with the monster(s), but there are smaller monsters or parasites throughout the film that have a close-up encounter with the characters that is absolutely brilliantly animated and extremely thrilling. The camerawork, which is done in found-footage style, is decent , yet makes you ask the occasional question of why the characters don’t just leave the camera as they go out of their way several times to bring the camera or hold onto it even when in combat or flight. After an hour or so it does become just a smidge annoying to watch the same shaky and tilted camera follow the characters at awkward angles and weird cinematography. The acting in the film is also fairly straight forward and at times mildly blatantly horror/sci-fi-style acting with screams, yells, and the occasional tear when somebody dies. I should though give a shout-out to Michael Stahl-David, who had one intense scene when speaking on the phone with his mother that was extremely emotional and probably the strongest acting showcased in the film.
The film will appeal to most sci-fi fans and to the occasional horror fan, but other than that, this film has a fairly small audience. No brilliant acting, or directing, or special effects, or screenplay, or story. But the film still manages to be thrilling and a fun watch due in part to the minimal information we’re given as viewers and all the assuming and theorizing that has to be done. In other words: a decent-at-best film that somehow encapsulates the audience with its lack of explanation.
Best Aspect- The J.J. Abrams style storytelling technique
Worst Aspect- The first 20 minutes