Sunday, February 3rd, 2008 Horrorthon Posts / Horrorthon Reviews

2008 (*****)


Wow. I’ve been home for about half an hour and the adrenaline’s finally starting to abate—walking out of the theater, I was practically shaking with cathartic nervous anxiety, which, in my opinion, is how you should feel walking out of a horror movie: like somebody who just got off a rollercoaster or who got accidentally trapped in the dryer for a spin cycle. Or who just got punched in the solar plexus. Again, wow.

This was vastly better than I was expecting. It’s impossible to say too much about it without giving important stuff away: the trailers are almost too explicit. I’ll evade all the specifics by talking about the “shakycam,” which was everyone’s concern every time the movie came up for discussion here on Horrorthon. Yes, it is extremely shaky. Shakier than Blair Witch, and the shakiness has a more startling and disorienting effect here than it does in Blair Witch since the mise-en-scene is the middle of a loud urban disaster rather than the quiet, slow dread of an empty, tranquil forest you can’t find your way out of. Visually, Blair Witch was about walking, trudging, sleeping; Cloverfield is about running for your life.

I should mention that I’m a tremendous fan of Blair Witch and always have been, not just because of the “gimmick” (Why is it a “gimmick,” anyway? That’s so dismissive. It’s like saying that Faulkner using an insane narrator is a “gimmick.”) but because everything else about the movie—the suspenseful structure, the acting, the innovative ghost/witch story—was so superb. Blair Witch had two cameras, not one (although one of the cameras didn’t have sound, which, once the guy with the Nagra is gone, means that the last ten minutes of the movie you’re watching film from one camera synced with sound from the other camera in another room, where something else is happening) and the way that the 16mm/Hi-8 footage was edited together made for a dazzling visual tapestry. There are moments of pure visual brilliance in Blair Witch and I’ve found myself freeze-framing it or rewinding the disc constantly to admire the flare of sunlight through the trees or the glitter of water in the streams and brooks. But the immediacy and realism are what made Blair Witch so memorable: the screams; the fear; the panicked bickering, the moments of sheer courage and of sheer stupidity and blind terror.

Cloverfield is absolutely 100% in the same vein as Blair Witch. You can’t even call it “derivative”—it’s an ambitious further step in the same artistic direction, the way Georges Braque follows Picasso or the Coen brothers follow Hitchcock. Interestingly, this movie seems to be getting the same polarized reaction as Blair Witch: a lot of people not only didn’t like it as much as I did but actively hated it, and walked out feeling ripped off and angry. I don’t know what to make of this, and they don’t make it easy for me, since message boards where people typed “THIS MOVIE SUCKED” etc. aren’t very helpful. Obviously some people can’t deal with the aforementioned shakycam; that’s understandable. (I usually sit pretty close; for this one, I decided to sit two-thirds of the way back, and I’m extremely glad I did.) But beyond that, people seem to completely miss the artistry of Cloverfield, the skill with which the story is told and the fear slowly magnified, the visual brilliance of how the sequences are put together, the precision with which a movie so painstakingly constructed is made to seem like a wild, kinetic tumbling rush of sensation. (Remember the “intersection” sequence in War of the Worlds? Here, the entire movie’s like that, at night, at five times the speed.)

What does it all mean? I have some grandiose theories about I Am Legend and this movie, and the cinematic destruction of New York (which I wrote out here if anyone’s interested). Yeah, it’s about 9/11, the way Godzilla is about Hiroshima and The Day The Earth Stood Still is about Sputnik; that’s a very good thing, in my opinion. I was right here in Manhattan in September 2001 and it makes me more into these movies, not less. People say this is “exploitative,” but last I heard horror movies were supposed to exploit our deepest fears; that’s the whole point. Some critics have argued that Cloverfield is “just” an updated throwback to 1950s monster movies. To this I say: “…And?” (Like there’s something wrong with that.) Anyway, I apologize for the quick, messy style of this review (even though it’s a quick, messy movie); hopefully I’m managing to get my points across. Highly recommended. Just don’t sit too close.

ADDENDUM: I just realized nobody is going to read this, because it’s Sunday evening, which means that tomorrow morning JPX is going to post twelve news-item excerpts on top of this review and nobody will ever scroll down here. So I’m just enjoying my moment in the sun before this review is crushed by “EXCLUSIVE: NEW HELLBOY II IMAGES” and eleven other exciting stories that are in the news, as Aquaman used to put it. “BItter? Oh, a tad…” –Crow T. Robot

ADDENDUM II: JPX, you know I’m just screwing around, right? I love all those morning posts you do. Don’t let me stop you.