Going into CLOVERFIELD, these were my expectations:
1. That I would be wowed by “a monster movie for us” (paraphrasing JJ Abrams when he spoke at Comic-Con).
2. That, based on early reviews from geeks like me, I would enjoy one hell of a horror show.
3. That I would get motion sickness from the handheld camera conceit.
I’d say all three happened to one degree or another.
Basically, if you’re not up on the zeitgeist, CLOVERFIELD started out as a genius marketing move—a mysterious movie trailer played before TRANSFORMERS that featured all these twentysomethings at a party for “Rob.” Then there’s a quake, a roar, fireballs shooting into the sky, chaos…and then the Statue of Liberty’s head goes skidding through the streets. Then the campaign went a step farther, becoming a viral marketing clue hunt online as fans tried to guess what this movie would be about, what it would be named, and whether or not it would live up to the hype. For me, it did, but I’m going to tell it to you straight—if you loved, loved, loved TRANSFORMERS, chances are good that you’re going to walk out of CLOVERFIELD ticked off.
I’m not going to go into the reasons for that, because some of you will want to see this film unspoiled, and you should. Believe me. Part of the horrific appeal is seeing the monster revealed bit by bit and letting your imagination take hold. Part of it is just not knowing what the characters are in for because seeing their “adventure” through the eye of their party camera makes you one of their crowd, and to experience their nightmare as they do is a pretty powerful thing.
And CLOVERFIELD is powerful, not just because you can’t possibly watch skyscrapers crumbling and people running from them in New York without thinking of 9/11. In fact, if you forget that you’re watching a monster movie for even a second (and I did), you could mistake the monster attack for something much more realistic. This is what might even be called the “indie-version” of TRANSFORMERS, yet instead of getting a yummy helping of popcorn, Twizzlers, and jokey robots raining down upon a city, you’re going to get an alien-like entertainment package that you’re not quite sure how to digest.
This makes it sound as if I didn’t enjoy it—but I did. I was unsettled in a good way, which means this movie doesn’t necessarily ask you to like it. For instance, the creators (one of them being Drew Goddard of BUFFY/LOST/ALIAS fame—God, he’s good) give you characters who make really crummy decisions as the city falls down around them. But, heck, if I were in the same situation, who’s to say I wouldn’t do the same? In fact, the main character makes a choice that boils down to whether he wants the rest of his days to be about quantity or quality, and I’ve heard complaints about how unrealistic his decision was, but by the end of the movie, it made absolute, perfect sense to me.
(slight SPOILER ahead!) As my audience filed out, I listened to the reactions. Most of them hated the ending, but every single group had something to say about it. CLOVERFIELD challenges the audience to do more than just sit there: it invites them to become viscerally involved and then to be upset about it afterward.
I don’t know about you guys, but I'm so up for that!