All Hell Breaks Loose

I just got back from seeing the film Cloverfield, which came out on the 18th of January. I have a couple of mixed feelings about it, but overall, I think that it was an absolutely facinating film, one that I feel will really change the way that films are made.
The story, in case you haven’t seen the film or haven’t heard anything about it, is almost non-existent, all filmed from the point of view of Hud, the best friend of Rob, who’s about to leave for Japan to become the Vice President of something. We start off with some clips of Robert and Beth, from something that was taped over about a month before. We then go to a party, where we’re introduced to various people, some of whom are caught up in what happens next. There’s a huge tremor, the lights go out and panic everywhere. People go up to the roof to see what happened and while up there, there’s an explosion, and more panic. The rest of the movie documents a small group of four as they try and escape from the city. As they run, we get glimpses of the monster as it destroys buildings and drops smaller creatures that attack people. Rob gets a phone call from a girl, which drives much of the film from there as he and the other three people tag along as they try and get to her. A couple people are picked off. Rob’s brother Jason is killed when the Brooklyn Bridge is destroyed by the monster, and one of the girls is bitten by a smaller creature and explodes shortly after they reach a makeshift Army base. Another gets onto a helicopter and escapes, and so on. Overall, there’s not much to the story here, but really, a story isn’t needed. Rather, we just see part of the story, but only from this one point of view, and the characters make us aware of this as they document what happens.
This movie is a product of the post 9-11 and YouTube world, where anything can be documented on a camera phone or a digital camcorder, which translates into a lot of footage of the world around us. While I was watching this, I was really reminded of a bit of combat footage that some soldier caught in Fallujah, Iraq. This film keeps much of the same intensity and single-minded focus that really just gives us one piece of what is a larger event that the main characters are caught up in.
The approach is brilliant, and I can’t think of a more simple and interesting way to come up with a story such as this. All we see are the four main characters, as they literally run for their lives. This is a monster movie that’s not about the monster, but about these mid-twenties kids who are witness to this incredible event. There’s no explanation, no scientist that drones about how this came from who-knows-where, and there isn’t much that we do learn. The group runs into an army group, and from what we hear from them is that they’re just as in the dark as we are, except that they know that victims who’ve been bitten are not good (messy explosion, and probable contamination, hence the Hazmat suits), and that they have permission to shoot it. Hud, our camera man, speculates that it’s from the ocean, or a government experiment. (Look at the end of the film, when there’s part of a taped over section with Roger and Beth, in the corner of the ocean, you see something fall from the sky and into the ocean. Hm…) But overall, it doesn’t really matter where this thing came from. There’s the big version that’s destroying buildings and playing baseball with the statue of liberty, and there’s smaller things that seem to fall off of it that move much faster and attack people nearby. There’s no time for explanation here. Just running and more running. Hud, at some point, realizes that documenting what happens here will possibly make their ordeal worth something. This comes right from this generation, with the ability to film something. The footage that we get is remarkably like homemade films from soldiers in Iraq in the middle of battle, with much of the intensity here. The events are preserved, and technology, both in capture and then distribution, have made this a practical thing for a huge group of people.
Given the events of 9-11, with the images of dust-covered survivors and rubble strewn streets, this film is a direct product in theme and style. It’s not too unbelievable that there would be (and probably are) a number of films shot by regular people about the events of 9-11. This is that same logic to much more fantastic proportions.
With these two things put together, there’s a highly successful, out of the box film here that is really something to watch. While not terribly original by any stretch of the imagination (Monster attacks city; panic ensues – this has been done to death. No pun intended.), it’s a fresh look at the genre. The monster, when we do see it, is interesting, frightening and not really like anything seen before. What really makes this film work is the unknown – we don’t see the monster that often, and we don’t know much else about it. I think that over explanation here would have rendered much of this film useless.
Already, the film has done spectacularly well at the box office – it made #1 at the box office by a large margin, and remained there for a little while, all the while this film was made for a fairly low budget. As of the time of this writing, there’s already talk of a second movie (I’d hesitate to call it a sequel). This could be done really easily – there were several other people that we come across in the film who are also holding cameras. At the beginning of this film, there’s an official looking seal that states that the footage is one of many recovered from the city after the event (Designated as Cloverfield), so further films aren’t an improbability here. The only issue would be making sure that any future effort isn’t simply a rehash of this movie – a group of kids merely running away from the monster. Future films, while retaining similar filming styles, should incorporate completely different people and catch different views of the event. I can see a video from some of the military personnel filling this void, or from medical or rescue personnel. A collection of films, all with different viewpoints of the Cloverfield event, would together tell the entire story. It’s an interesting possibility, and one where I think is just begging to happen. Sequels here don’t need to coincide too much with the first film, nor do they need to be wholly consistent with characters or events, just overlapping at a couple of points here and there.