It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of creature features, so don’t be surprised if I take this post a little more seriously than usual. The “Cloverfield” films are not straight up sequels to each other. Instead, producer J.J. Abrahms stated in an interview that the movies are “spiritually connected”. It’s a curious marketing ploy at best. However, I’m thankful to have both film in my life.
2008’s “Cloverfield directed by Matt Reeves, and written by veteran LOST writer, Drew Goddard is a Kaiju movie. For those of you who didn’t spend large amounts of your youth watching giant monsters battle other monsters, or giant robots, a Kaiju is a giant monster which usually terrorizes largely populated urban settings- such as Godzilla (Gojira), in his 1954 self titled romp.
I think a little history here is important. Godzilla, was written not very long after the end of World War II. Thusly, the movie was created in order to express the lingering feelings of loss, terror, and helplessness of the Japanese people due to the dropping of two atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Godzilla is very much a cautionary tale, warning of the dangers of atomic tinkering.
Cloverfield takes a lot of its cues from the original Kaiju himself. Only seven years after the terrorist attacks that occurred on 9/11, the film depicts a group of 20-somethings who must survive when New York City is thrown into chaos during the attack of a mysterious giant creature. The imagery is unmistakable. I can point out several scenes from the film that are direct references to cell phone footage from that day- in particular, one shot in which our horrified protagonists take shelter inside of a building with a glass storefront, as they watch an avalanche of dust and debris roll by, obscuring any visibility.
Another aspect that makes Cloverfield potent in my opinion, is the use of found footage, as opposed to classic film techniques. For those of us who witnessed the events of 9/11 either in person or as it unfolded on the news networks, we remember countless videos taken by onlookers of the events that took place. Matt Reeves intentionally uses found footage in order to reflect those real life images.
My favorite aspect of Cloverfield, however, is the panic and confusion one experiences while watching it. In one scene, a woman who had recently been bit by a smaller mite like creature that had fallen from the monsters back begins showing signs of sickness. Suddenly, they encounter military personnel who immediately notice the woman’s condition. They drag her behind a white sheet, where we then see her shadow bloat up, and then explode. What happens in this scene is not explained. Not even a little bit. And so you sit looking at your screen feeling exactly the same as the terrified characters having just seen this. You are confused. You are shocked. And you’re afraid, because this is like real life. Sometimes messed up things happen, and there is no explanation. There is no rhyme or reason. The world is a horrifying place when it wants to be.
Oh, also, the man behind the camera in Cloverfield, is no other than “Silicon Valley” actor, T.J. Miller. It’s highly recommended.
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
This movie is much less in your face than it’s predecessor. At least until the last 20 minutes. Director, Dan Trachtenberg clearly channeled his inner Alfred Hitchcock while directing this feature. The only thing that 10 Cloverfield Lane actually shares with Cloverfield, is producer J.J. Abrahms, who is just a real wiz when it comes to marketing.
The film revolves around a young woman, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. When we first meet her character, she is making a presumably major life decision. As she hastily pack up her belongings, intending to leave her boyfriend and apartment behind, we see from the things she collects that she designs and makes clothes. Every action she takes during this sequence defines her character in some way or another.
Soon she is on the road, ignoring calls from her worried boyfriend, voiced by Bradley Cooper, no less. Things go south when she is in an accident. We next see our heroine chained to a wall in some windowless room. This is where Mr. John Goodman comes in.
Goodman’s performance is pretty unsettling. You can tell from the start that there is something wrong with this character, but as far as the characters can tell, he and his doomsday bunker are the only thing protecting her, and a young man played by John Gallagher Jr. from a mysterious disaster that Goodman’s character claims has tainted the air outside of the bunker.
Obviously there has been foul play, and we the audience begin to suspect along with the characters that there probably is nothing dangerous outside, and John Goodman is just a scary old man who wants to do bad things to the protagonists. Half of these suspicions are correct, and not the ones you’d want.
Once things finally escalate to the point that the main character turns on Goodman and makes it outside, we realize that there is indeed something very wrong with the outside world. Up until this point, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a beautifully paced psychological thriller. I still don’t know how i feel about the ending. The final 20 minutes of the movie are completely off balance with the rest of the film. It’s sort of an interesting twist, however. Not mind blowing in any way, but still an interesting direction for a film like this to take.
This one does NOT have Silicon Valley’s, T.J. Miller in it.
P.S. If you’ve never checked out HBO’s Silicon Valley, you’re seriously missing out.
This has been Scary Movie Month 4, and 5. Rock on, y’all.
-Ian M. Politis