Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Not-Too-Distant Future

Here’s a riddle for you: How do you get twenty somethings into a movie theatre? It’s something Roger Corman’s dedicated himself to constantly solving and resolving every day. The answer, more or less, hasn’t changed much in 50 years (thanks mostly to Tom Graeff), but the nature of the solution has changed quite a bit. J.J. Abrams knows the answer and his film Cloverfield proves it. It’s making millions internationally and in about a month, Corman and dozens like him will start making their own Cloverfield. This movie’s success makes me kind of nervous as to what to expect in the future. It’s not that it wasn’t a decent film, it just felt more like I was watching an FPS (and getting sicker and sicker with every passing minute) than the future of horror movies. And, as I’m sure many of it’s viewers can attest to, I didn’t have a good feeling about much after the lights came up. I bet Roger Corman wishes he had his name on this one, because I get the feeling this will be what teens talk about in favor of Saw or 300…at least for awhile. The answer to the riddle: put them on the screen.

by Matt Reeves

Cloverfield (the arbitrariness of the name is a little maddening) follows an ever-dwindling group of twenty somethings as they go from unenlightened party guests to unenlightened monster victims. Their actions on the night of an undersea/outerspace monster attack are captured on a handheld digital camera wielded by the movie’s comic relief. This film, believe it or not, is pretty misanthropic. First of all, the motivations of the protagonist are predicated upon some vicious thing he says to someone he slept with before she leaves his party. He’s leaving to take some job he’s clearly not qualified for, professionally, mentally, or socially, and doesn’t want to leave without her knowing how he feels about her, so, of course he goes back into monster-infested midtown Manhattan to rescue her. I’ve seen this plot handled with much more tact and charm than it is here and with characters I actually sympathized with. Second, the use of digital footage and the one-take only style filmmaking means that no one’s death can be treated with anything other than passivity; the emotions follow, kind of. We see literally hundreds of people (or just one character we’ve been asked to attach significance to) killed and then we listen to emotionally stunted twenty-three year old babies talk out their feelings. In the end, it won’t make any difference (not only because the death of thousands of innocent people is just scenery to a really, really lame romantic subplot. In this regard, it’s kind of like The English Patient; ‘our love is more important than all of this noise.’ I won’t ruin the ending, but when you see it, you’ll see why this is even more trite than it sounds). Put yourself in their shoes for a second and tell me if they don’t sound a little cold: you’ve just seen your friend explode. Need a minute? No? You’re cool? Ok. And scene! That’s what I thought.

The sound design was very well done as others have already observed, and the creature was ok, but I couldn’t help feeling like somebody had just seen The Mist. The tentacled monster with small spider parts wasn’t exactly the reinvented wheel everyone claims it is. And I’m also kind of miffed that they managed to sneak in product placement too. As if this didn’t feel like a big decision already, they had to add new music (not just current, but NEW) and fancy electronics. Oh and the other thing, how the hell do these jackasses afford such nice Manhattan apartments? The hero doesn’t look like he could be the vice president of his shoelaces, so explain how he and his brother and his girlfriend all live in the biggest lofts I’ve ever seen. I mean, I know some people come from money, but, Christmas! Also, at what point during the motherfucking apocalypse do you stop being a smart-ass. After seeing the gaping hole in somebody’s chest after some kind of monster attack, I think that’s when you stop impersonating Dane Cook. These are things that probably only impeded my sympathizing with the characters, but, if someone’s going to split hairs, it’s this guy.

The motivation behind the digital camera set piece are explained in one sentence, and I’m not the only one who has issues with it. Critics have cited “people are gonna know how it all went down…” as the films biggest misstep. The reasons for filming people being bitten by subterranean bug creatures, confessing to sexual misconduct, or a forced introduction before your blown to pieces, or one case your own death, are all equally gross, and it’s supposed to be the message of this million dollar movie. Kids film stuff, so why wouldn’t they film everybody getting eaten by monsters. Sadly, given today’s youtube climate, I can’t offer any argument. If it was me, the camera goes off when the big fucking tentacles shows up, but others might not be easily dissuaded. “it’d make a killer viral vid, man!” I don’t get this, and so the movie loses a lot of its appeal. So, in the face of such adversity, like the true film nerd I am, I just spent most of the running time questioning the mise en scene. How much could we actually see if the camera operator was legitimately running for his life. And let’s talk about that. I had eaten before seeing this movie…turns out that was a mistake. For the hour following Cloverfield I just felt sick. I hope that horror movies don’t all end up like this one; I don’t think my stomach can handle it.

It’s not unreasonable to assume that this Gonzo-type horror film is going to be en vogue for a little while. George Romero’s Diary Of The Dead uses the same trick and Zach Snyder played with it in his Dawn Of The Dead, so clearly Abrams is on to something. Mark my words, Dandelionfield and Weedfield to follow and Roger Corman will get his fingers in this pie if it’s the last thing he does. People are comparing this to Blair Witch. I get it, but the important difference is I could see searching for the three kids from that film when they go missing. Also, love it or hate it, people couldn’t get enough of that movie. I think it’s still the highest grossing movie of all time or very nearly. Let’s see if Cloverfield pulls off that trick.

No comments: