If you’re wondering what Cloverfield is to American film making, you must look no further than YouTube to find out. It is the quintessence of what I’d like to humbly suggest calling a “meme film,” that is, a genre of film that takes from, utilizes–and is utilized by–the common media, containing both references to popular phenomena and exhibiting meme-like symptoms, including but not limited to supernova news cycle popularity, talk-of-the-town characteristics and features that resemble and emulate the amateur nature of video that is captured and displayed on the web.
How’s that for a mouthful?
All that is to say that Cloverfield is an example of the new engine of Film 2.0. It is viral. It is networkable. It is bloggable. It breaks traditional rules. It defies typical demographics. It wages war on categorization, though not entirely successfully. It is crafty, structured, even intricate in its coup-ish attempt at rethinking the blockbuster. It is, in a word, byzantine.
But is it acceptable?
Short answer, Yes with a but. The elements that make Cloverfield so minable in the popular entertainment industry also define its lack of overall resonance after the fact. A hearty dose of spectacular effects, monster mayhem and genius editing and staging collide with a distinct lack of overall relatability, character depth, or substance. But perhaps this is what we want.
Perhaps this is what we are. But on with the show.
The 85 minute thriller is shot in the guise of hand-held video footage, primarily taken and semi-directed by Hud (T.J. Miller), who is one of many O.C. graduates about to send their twenty-something friend Rob (Michael Stahl-David) off to Japan. Midway through a lulling Manhattan flat party comes the jolt that signifies the beginning of a terrific romp through the streets, sewers, buildings, and parks of New York.
What has come is mostly unseen, though a few spectacular shots of the beastie do justice to the quality of effects this movie boasts. Director Matt Reeves permits us a few key shots of the monster as it rages about downtown, but mostly what is not seen is the bigger success from a suspense standpoint. Clearly, whatever it is, it isn’t fazed by fifty story buildings or ornaments of nationalistic pride. As the head of the Statue of Liberty arrives on 6th street and a billowing cloud of smoke slouches down the avenue after the flattening of a WTC lookalike building, remnants of 9/11 in the minds of viewers, it becomes a bit more apparent just what writer Drew Goddard, Reeves, and superstar producer J.J. Abrams are trying to say.
But it’s a nihilistic response to American–what? pride? arrogance? our foreign policy? There’s something being said here, but following the vacuous group as they first attempt to flee the city and then return to save one of Rob’s girlfriends seems not to be the most appropriate method for submitting a moral message through what is effectively the first YouTube Hollywood blockbuster.
But once again, perhaps it is the perfect vehicle for our time. There is a vanilla cynicism and youthful insoucience that seems inherent in the film, and its somewhat aimless story is a stark contrast to the purposefully amateurish shooting methodology. It’s a meta-narrative inside a popular media vehicle trapped inside the heart of the beating Hollywood monster. Is it real? Is it time to look for the next big thing on the tv of our generation, the Internet? Has it already been found?
And does it speak to a bereft society with nothing more to give, thus ushering the way for a beast without pity, remorse, or human capacity? There’s probably too much here to wonder, and perhaps that’s the gravest point of all. For despite the cocksure realism of Cloverfield, it will barely make a dent on our media-infatuation and our appetite for destruction.
It’s a load of fun, nonetheless.