Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Matt Reeves' 'Cloverfield', 2008

Fig. 1 Cloverfield Poster
Cloverfield is another take on the faux documentary film in which the audience follow a group of characters and stay within their point of view through hand held cameras. Though it takes much of its influence from the marketing and film style of The Blair Witch Project, it is much more of an allegorical story about the suffering that people feel when they are completely helpless, when something so out of everyone's comprehension happens and the series of events that would follow.

Fig. 2 The group of friends with one hidden behind the camera.
Lincoln Geraghty believed that monster movies like Cloverfield "follow in science fiction's nostalgic turn" however, when compared to the more traditional science fiction films, it offers "more nihilistic visions of humanity on the brink of destruction."(Geraghty, 2009:108).  The city of New York is being destroyed by an unknown terror, Geraghty goes on to explain that "no human weapons can stop it and nobody knows its origins" (Geraghty, 2009:108) Herein lies the deep seated fear that every human feels, the fear of the unknown.  This giant horror is destroying everything that was once safe and familiar to those around them and they can do nothing but try their hardest to survive and protect the ones they love. The A.V club divulged that "the smartly conceived Cloverfield adopts a pea-sized perspective on a large-scale catastrophe, underlining the terror of Individuals in the face of something much larger than themselves." (A.V. Club, 2009:213)  This pea-sized perspective is what brings this fairly huge problem to a more relatable size.  The audience is given this group of friends that are fairly normal in lifestyle and personality to follow and invest their emotions in because it allows them to feel what the director wants them to feel, they can now become consumed by the narrative and be there 'with' the characters.  Sadly, though they have suffered some real tragedy throughout the plot, in the end they are all destroyed either directly or indirectly by the invading force.  Geraghty went on to express that "Instead of a happy ending, the film has the reunited friends caught escaping in an army helicopter by the monster, the abandoned camera serving as the last and only record of who they were, what they were trying to do and how they died." (Geraghty, 2009:108-9) This whole sequence of events is just heartbreaking for the previously hopeful viewers.  The characters that they were so rooting for before have been unable to escape, despite all there efforts to save their friends.  It is this complete helplessness that has really opened a wound among many of the American viewers, as well as those watching from other countries.

Fig. 3 Mirroring 9/11.

As previously mentioned in the introduction, the film can be considered as an allgory of the horrific and devastating attacks on the world trade centre in New York. In one scene the film visually encapsulates the visceral horror that was the toppling of the towers. Robert Cattl explains that "The vividness of the collapsing tower scenes and the depiction of New York City in the grip of a national emergency recurred in, of all things, the non-terrorist monster movie Cloverfield." (Cattl, 2009:291) he goes on to say that the "monster-movie wreckage in Cloverfield...abstracts 9/11 almost completely just as much as it visually evokes it." (Cattl, 2009:274)  This whole scene, from the suffocating ash cloud to the people just wandering the streets outside like zombies, is an almost exact visual representation of the experience of those witnessing the destruction.  Though there are clear visual reconstructions of the event on 9/11, the abstraction that Cattl refers to is seen within the monster itself.  John Berra believes that "J.J. Abrams' edgy tribute to classic monster movies from Hollywood and Japan, Godzilla has been ingeniously and chillingly recontextualised for a post-9/11 world." (Berra, 2010:210) This is exactly the case.  The monster is a physical manifestation of the foreign intruder on American soil. It was a foreign element that took control of the planes that destroyed the towers, and it is the nations fear that another unknown, unpredictable force would come in and destroy their lives again.  This monster is that force, and it is through the experience of the characters that the audience sees not only the destruction of the city but the effect the intruder has wrought upon their personal lives.  The moment when the male protagonist Rob has to tell his parents that his brother was killed by it, the helplessness that they experience when one of the female cast is unpredictably killed because of it.  These are all small elements that the public had to experience on that day that makes not only the characters easier to relate to but the whole situation as well.

Fig. 4 Rob's social networking page.
Not only is the narrative made intriguing by its cultural context but the films unusual and in depth viral marketing technique is equally so.  Angus Finney explains that "Cloverfield had two distinct types of marketing campaigns: One was the classic standard - aiming to get to the target audience, and made up of the traditional elements of a movie marketing push...The other was based on interactivity and an alternate reality game (ARG), broader in audience scope if narrower in the methods of getting to that audience." (Finney, 2010:136)  Much like The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield was given an expansive viral advertising campaign.  The modern day equivalent of the one seen from Blair Witch, it contained not only customised websites designed to seem real but social networking sites for the main character and the slogan 'What is Cloverfield?' sprayed along the street floors. Finney goes on to explain that "It consisted of a series of websites that created a story that added to but was ultimately separate to the main film." (Finney, 2010:137) This website was made so realistic that "'hackers' would sometimes manage to deface the site and write comments critical of the company's activities in farming an undersea component. A plot of corporate malpractice and cover up was initiated." (Finney, 2010:137)  The theory behind the monster in the film is that it was released by underwater mining so this ties in very nicely as an online 'prequel' to the film.
Though the social networking site is incredibly surreal it really acted as a way to pull the audience in deeper with the characters. Before the film was even released they could get to know them through that website that not only contained comments from friends but photos of them too.  This style of film making and advertising is really intriguing and so thrilling when it is discovered by the viewers that it leaves them excited and awaiting what could come next.

List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Cloverfield Poster. At: (Accessed on: 23.02.11)

Figure 2. Cloverfield (2008) The group of friends with one hidden behind the camera. At: (Accessed on: 23.02.11)

Figure 3. Cloverfield (2008) Mirroring 9/11. At: (Accessed on: 23.02.11)

Figure 4. Cloverfield (2008) Rob's social networking page. At: (Accessed on: 23.02.11)


A.V. Club, Klosterman, Chuck (2009) Inventory: 16 Films Featuring Manic Pixie Dream Girls...New York: Simon & Schuster

Berra, John (2010) Directory of World Cinema: Japan. Bristol: Intellect Books.

Cettl, Robert (2009) Terrorism in American cinema: an analytical filmography, 1960-2008. North Carolina: MacFarland & Company, Inc. 

Finney, Angus (2010) The International Film Business: A Market Guide Beyond Hollywood. Oxon: Taylor & Francis

Geraghty, Lincoln (2009) American science fiction film and television. Oxford: Berg

1 comment:

  1. The monster is a physical manifestation of the foreign intruder on American soil... a killer observation - great!