The Shakiest Cam of All
Saw Cloverfield Friday night. Now, I was looking forward to seeing it, expected to enjoy it, but that was about it. I loved the concept, and thought the marketing was brilliant, but reports that there were no further "big twists" to be had had me going in with lowered expectations. Which were smashed to smithereens. I was completely won over by the film - engrossed, completely wrapped up by the story and stunned by the execution. A great, great movie.
What impressed me the most is how committed they were to the concept. I expected cheats - outside viewpoints, suspiciously well-framed and executed shots, maybe some music. And got none of it. The commitment to producing a film that could have been captured by a camcorder wielded by a terrified, numbed fleeing victim was wholesale. And it was that commitment that captured my attention so - I bought into the concept fully and so was able to feel engaged by what was going on. And the attention to detail was great. Starting with a good 15 minutes of uneventful party blather was very disarming, and helped me to buy into these characters. But most important was the way the camera never settled, never framed anything well, and how much of the film's runtime is given over to incomprehensible shots taken with the camera swinging wildly as its wielder sprints in terror, or takes cover, or otherwise freaks out. Even the conceit that he never just drops the damn camera was well-executed, I thought; the film made it clear that the camera was something for him to hide behind - we see him take the camera at the beginning after realizing that it gives him an excuse to talk to people, and a way to hide his shyness. So when the attack happens, I totally believe that he would continue filming, as it gives him a way to hide from the crazy violence surrounding him - the camera becomes a security blanket.
I was also extremely impressed with the special effects - shots like the Brooklyn Bridge being destroyed, or one skyscraper drunkenly leaning against another, were seamless, and felt completely real. And the monster, what little we saw of it, was very nicely designed; otherworldy, freakish, and not like monsters we've seen in other films.
What kind of blindsided me the most though was how much of a 9/11 move this was. A film actually about 9/11 that deployed these same shots - especially a shot of people gathered in a store as a massive wall of smoke and debris sweeps by that deliberately echoes real footage from 9/11 of the same thing happening - would feel crass and exploitative. But because this is a monster movie, a movie about a huge creature that could never exist in real life, it can get away with the imagery, and do a remarkably effective job of portraying the emotions involved for New Yorkers caught up in the attacks that day. Genius.
One last note. I had a pet theory going that this was going to end up being the New York attack that we see briefly in Watchmen, that the films would tie together and that would be the "twist" many (including me) seemed to be anticipating. But I just looked and saw that Watchmen is Warner Bros. and this is Paramount, so that's probably not the case. Fun theory anyway.