“People are gonna want to know, y’know… how it all went down.”
It must be difficult to put into numbers how many filmmakers and filmgoers have been inspired by classic, monster cinema throughout the years. Icons such as Godzilla and King Kong have ruled our screens and terrified our imaginations for generations but in the past decade or so, have seen a downward trend in popularity. Matt Reeves’ 2008 film Cloverfield is a fantastic reinvention of the monster genre and one that used the technologies and methods of 21st-century filmmaking to its absolute advantage. Through one of the most ominous and eerie marketing pushes that a major studio has ever attempted, Reeves and his ultimate sci-fi/horror crew were able to build an immense amount of anticipation while making such a genuinely exciting and rewatchable addition to the monster genre.
On the night of Rob’s (Michael Stahl-David) surprise farewell party in New York, massive explosions begin to rock the city which are caused by an attack from an unknown, alien monster. As the military evacuates everyone, Rob realizes that his ex-girlfriend Beth (Odette Annable) is still stuck in her apartment building. Chronicled on camera by Rob’s friend Hud (T.J. Miller) and accompanied by their other friends Lily (Jessica Lucas) and Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), the group travels back into the path of the monster to save their friend.
In the summer of 2007, as audiences sat in theaters ready to watch Michael Bay’s Transformers, a short trailer played before the film depicting the decapitated head of the Statue of Liberty rolling down a panicked street of people. The teaser had no title attached and simply stated “January 2008.” This ambiguous marketing ploy that Paramount used turned out to be a genius move on their advertising end, as hype for the unheard of film grew more and more. Over the following months, more details were revealed, including that Drew Goddard had written the script, Matt Reeves was directing, and J.J. Abrams was producing. This powerhouse of sci-fi and horror storytellers are the perfect combination for creating a film such as Cloverfield and each of their individual talents shine so brightly. Reeves’ excellent handling of otherworldly stories matched with Abrams’ ability to produce something fresh out of an already established genre makes this film such a wild and terrifying ride. Goddard has also shown throughout the course of his career that he loves playing with genre as can be seen in his other films such as The Cabin in the Woods and Bad Times at the El Royale, Goddard has an affection for breaking down genre tropes and making something unique. Cloverfield is no exception, as this horror film takes ideas previously seen in monster movies and updates them for an internet-driven millennium by use of the found-footage style, which gives this movie a much more authentic, humanlike quality. The found-footage style has been proven to work very well for the horror genre and it lends so much cinematic credibility to this film. The actors also play a large part in the authenticity of this style of filmmaking and while this movie feels much more produced than other found-footage stories, the performances were all still solid and very humanistic.
The influences of Japanese monsters such as Godzilla are very apparent but these filmmakers are able to create a new monster of their own and use it to tell such an adrenaline-fueled story. Cloverfield almost plays out like a horror video game, as the adventure aspect of the plot is consistently engaging, pushing its audience through the streets of New York in such a hectic, linear fashion. Reeves’ direction and Kevin Stitt’s editing are to thank for this terrorizing feeling, as they continue to throw the viewer alongside the journey of these main characters without ever letting them breathe. Stitt cuts this film in such a quick and relentless way, forcing the audience to try and maintain their anxiety as they simply wonder who could be the next to die. This constant flow of action is so energetic and the technical pieces that go into the production of this movie works incredibly well with the monster attack plot. As opposed to other horror or sci-fi films that utilize the found-footage style by never directly showing the antagonistic force, Cloverfield is unafraid to make its viewers claustrophobic. Tossing them into the packed streets of New York City and right into the sawtooth mouth of the monster is such an immediate way of striking terror into the hearts of the audience. Goddard’s script, however, also incorporates plenty of humor, which is often important in the horror genre. A plethora of one-liners here and comedic interactions between characters there are able to break up the fear that is created and this balance of horror and humor was very beneficial.
This film may not be the most groundbreaking or awe-inspiring monster movie of all time but Cloverfield will be remembered for years to come due to its revolutionary marketing scheme and excellent writing. Reeves’ film is a fantastic, horror-monster hybrid that has one of the most distinctive atmospheres while never outstaying its welcome. With the help of the frighteningly effective found-footage style, he is able to introduce one of the most terrifying monsters within the realm of apocalyptic horror.