Nobody knows how to spin out a yarn like Lost creator JJ Abrams, but even at a short running time, his shaky-cam disaster horror flick Cloverfield turns out to be all spin and no substance. Essentially a marketing concept in search of a movie, Cloverfield announced itself with an omnipresent trailer last summer featuring video footage of a Manhattan loft party disrupted by a huge explosion. The teaser ended with a selection of faceless carousers shrieking with panic at the arrival of the Statue of Liberty’s severed head on their doorstep. The resulting buzz encouraged Paramount to give director Matt Reeves, writer Drew Goddard and producer Abrams $30m to gamble on the gimmicky conceit of a whole film made up of footage purportedly discovered by the US military among the wreckage left behind by a huge alien monsters after taking Manhattan.
While Cloverfield’s ‘you-are-there’ grunt’s-eye aesthetic initially conceals the poverty of the B movie roots, there’s a pervasive grubbiness about the way imagery familiar from the Twin Towers attack is used in service of a monster-movie. With television screens reading ‘New York Under Attack’ and ordinary people rushing to escape oncoming walls of billowing dust, Abrams and his team clearly didn’t bother to look much further than yesterday’s newspapers for inspiration. Having the last messages of the survivors tastelessly ape the tone of phone messages left by 9/11 victims doesn’t help. Also, by using documentary techniques in the service of such a deeply silly premise, Cloverfield can’t hope to match the cinema vérité power achieved by masters of the docudrama Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday, United 93) or Peter Watkins (The War Game, Punishment Park).
Apart from a brief aerial shot of the creature at the film’s conclusion, if you’ve already seen the trailer for Cloverfield, you’ve pretty much seen the whole movie, with a tedious 20 minutes of inane romantic chit-chat followed by endless race and chase as the anxious New Yorkers attempt to ‘get the hell out of Manhattan’. But, with no characters to root for or any plot to develop, the result plays like a ‘Gojira’ monster flick remade according to Dogme aesthetics. Unwary rubes may well end up separated from their cash in the process, but Cloverfield’s slick publicity machine actually heralds nothing more significant than a tatty-looking monster movie for the You Tube generation. (Eddie Harrison)
General release, from Fri 1 Feb.