RETRO REVIEW: Cloverfield (2008)

Theatrical Release Poster – Bad Robot – Paramount

The following is a retro review of ‘Cloverfield’, a Matt Reeves film.

Cloverfield is one to remember. It is the most mysterious monster film ever made, one of the best found-footage films of all-time, and, arguably, the best monster film of the 2000s. I had no idea what it was when it came out. I remember how some thought that, perhaps, it was a new Godzilla-film, and while Godzilla is a great monster, I can honestly say that I’ve never enjoyed a kaiju-movie more than I enjoyed Cloverfield when it first came out. 

Cloverfield is a found-footage monster movie, which follows a man called ‘Hud’ (played by T. J. Miller) who is asked to videotape a going-away party for his friend Rob (played by Michael Stahl-David), but Hud is much more interested in Marlena (played by Lizzy Caplan), a woman he has a crush on, and the apparent love affair between Rob and Beth (played by Odette Yustman). But when an earthquake suddenly strikes, their whole world is turned upside down as a monster seems to be attacking New York City.

I feel really bad for Matt Reeves, and Drew Goddard for that matter; the director and the writer of Cloverfield. Here’s the thing, while you may know those names in the 2010s, and while their names could make someone interested in a film or franchise after Reeves made Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Goddard wrote the screenplay for The Martian, I have to ask you all one thing: who do you associate with Cloverfield? It’s a fairly simple answer: J. J. Abrams.

J. J. Abrams is the master of ‘the mystery box’. What’s that? Who’s this? The unravelling of the mystery, and the monster or revelation at the very center of the box. The feeling of not knowing something, but learning about it as you go. There’s nothing quite like a mystery, and Abrams has worked with mysteries on a lot of his projects: Lost, Star Trek Into Darkness, and, yes, Cloverfield, to name a few.

You can master the mystery, but you can also completely lose touch of its magic. In 2014, six years after the release of Cloverfield, came Gareth Edwards’s reboot of Godzilla. Cloverfield mastered the mystery box, and kept you intrigued from start to finish. Actually, that isn’t even fair – as people are still, in 2016, talking about the kaiju from Cloverfield.

Godzilla, on the other hand, lost the magic of the mystery box. Sure, the marketing for that film didn’t help it one bit by essentially implying that Bryan Cranston, who plays a very minor character in Godzilla, was the star of the film that was focused around the kaiju ‘Godzilla’, which doesn’t appear on screen that often. Here’s the point, though: the kaiju is the star of Godzilla, whereas the mystery is the star of Cloverfield. So when Godzilla tried to aim for mystery by covering up its star it lost me.

Now, this isn’t really a comparative analysis or review, but let me say this: Godzilla learned all the wrong things from Cloverfield. You shouldn’t hide the monster, you should breathe life into the mystery of the monster. I simply didn’t get that from Edwards’s Godzilla-reboot.

I love Cloverfield. It remains my favorite found-footage film of all-time. Cloverfield was one of the films that breathed new life into what-was a niche film genre, which would become more and more mainstream until it was completely overdone. But Cloverfield was much more than a great found-footage film. It was also a good, fun monster film, and a cultural phenomenon. I remember how the internet would talk about this film for months on end. It ushered in a whole new way of marketing a film, and it is because of the marketing and suspense of the film that the internet asked for a sequel every time the film was brought up.

8.4 out of 10

– I’m Jeffrey Rex