Cast: T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Jessica Lucas, Odette Yustman, Lizzy Caplan
Director: Matt Reeves
Runtime: 79 min.
Verdict: A stunning formal exercise that turns the creature feature genre inside out.
Genre: Thriller, Horror
Stephanie Zacharek, in her review, observes the nature of Cloverfield, how the camera and Facebook, and Twitter, and mobiles and every other sibling of our Social Network act as surrogates to our experience, and how we seem to be more interested in capturing our experience than in experiencing the experience. People tweet from movie screenings, and that isn’t an exercise that makes much sense to me. But then, I have recently been to Dublin, and to the James Joyce center, and to the Oscar Wilde memorial, and I pretty much made it a point to “share” my experience. For some, IPL matches are worth sharing and tweeting about. For others, it is usually the French Open or the Champions League. Ah, that is just the very periphery of Cloverfield’s formal endeavor. And to dismiss the film on grounds of its similarity to 9/11 is to pretty much miss the point completely.
The point being, and that is what requires Cloverfield to be a creature feature for it to make any sort of sense for its footage-esque mise-en-scène, that there is a sort of contradiction between our voyeuristic tendencies driven by our innate curiosity, and the basic survival instincts we all possess. We wouldn’t want to be caught anywhere near a road accident, but we all would line up to see the aftermath. We wouldn’t want to ever be found inside a prison, but we all would want to know how it is to be inside of Kilmainham Gaol. We would want to run away from a terrorist fire, but we would all want to take snaps of the bullet holes in the wall. I guess you get the point. It is a tragedy alright but I’m sure there are survivors to 9/11 who claim to friends “they were there”. I do that for the Gujarat riots as I do for the Gujarat earthquake, and there is a certain pride I tend to attach to being a witness to such a tragedy. To feel this conflict, or you know clear some sand of this very fine line between our curiosity and our self-preservation pretty much needs something sensational. That Mr. Reeves, and Mr. Abrams travel largely in the fantasy land of creature features is proof enough against Ms. Zacharek’s claims against the morality of the tale.
Oh but we might need to understand this conflict before we even begin to analyze Cloverfield’s line of attack. And here we ought to ask ourselves this question – how long does it take before the immediacy of a tragic headlines-grabbing event becomes an interesting lesson in history? Further ahead, how would the future hold this event, as an artificial memory forever to cling upon and mine and refine kitschy declarations of humanity, or as a ripper of a puzzle that entertains scores of conspiracy theories? Oh no, I don’t think so it ever plain forgets. Mr. Reeves presents Cloverfield as a piece of evidence to an event, or rather a historical document, and comparisons to Abraham Zapruder’s film ought to be drawn, where the existence of the document itself becomes as much of an event as the actual event itself, and where witnessing the actual historical event is as much of a cool thing as being in possession of this document. You see, during those riots, we would walk around every morning and to “experience” the kind of damage caused to the shops, those shops we knew, and none of us owned a camera. But a lot of folks down at Ramlila Maidan do, and what they also have is access to Facebook. And oh, pictures of the Washington D.C. earthquake were doing the rounds a couple of days back. There’s an inherent need to declare that “we were there”, if not sharing the same space, then at least sharing the same time. Such an historical event is less about what it is, and becomes more about what is shared.
There’s Rob (Mr. Stahl-David) who’s leaving for Japan and is having his farewell party, and there’s Beth (Ms. Yustman) who seems to have broken up with him, after they had slept together only a month ago. By setting this as the “human angle” to the actual event, Mr. Reeves’s film rips through this line of conflict between our voyeuristic tendencies and our survival instincts, this “need to share”, and by setting up a little broken love story against a commercial creature attack it turns the camera on itself, thereby turning it from the observer to the observed, and making the camera guy Hud (Mr. Miller) the central character of the film, who, in a way, acknowledges our demands and against all good sense runs in the direction of the creature whetting our appetite to “witness” the event in all its glory. As is the case, the human story is interesting, sure, but is not the story itself and instead is merely a precursor to an infinitely more interesting experience, thereby explaining in one simple stroke the existence of blockbusters and more importantly the news media’s usual handling of major events, which usually aim for blockbuster results as well.
The structure of the film couldn’t be any more brilliant, and the manner in which the romantic story of this little party, where everybody is reduced to the curious gossiping cats causing the voyeuristic tendencies to run amuck, both sets up and contrasts with the actual event, and sort of provides for the film’s central theme. In the film’s most significant development, and in Cloverfield the style is the content, the video of Rob and Beth’s warm little romantic outing (shot under the sunlight of course) a month prior to this creature attack is overwritten by this event. Whatever glimpses we find of the love story feel one of those sweet little memories tragically erased, and yet in the film’s final moment, the entirety of it is corroded by the need to witness a spectacle, causing the human element merely a ruse to follow the real deal. And herein we ought to consider the image of the decade – a plane exploding through the WTC – the image that was played long and hard on news channels and elsewhere, and which still remains the very definition of the history of this new century. Did it, sort of, “overwrite” the human element of that day? If you ask me, we all seek the sensational.
Oh, yeah, the creature itself, right? It is completely opaque, and completely alien, resisting any attempt to get inside of it. Figuratively I mean.
Note: Not since Cache has the final frame of a film been so unassumingly explosive. And here, the smoking bomb, so to speak, has been concealed so tactfully it took me at least 10 rewinds to even identify it, despite knowing the fact where to look inside the frame. I find that amusing.