Ya gotta have a gimmick.
Well, these days in the horror-film genre you do if you want to cut through the movie marketing clutter and get yourself on the modern-culture map. But the trouble with gimmicks is that even the best of them can wear out their welcome pretty darn fast.
In 1999 the minutely budgeted horror flick, Blair Witch Project, had a spectacularly effective gimmick that elevated a story about being lost in the woods to bone-shuddering terror. That gimmick worked.
Now, along comes Cloverfield with a similar first-person approach applied to an attack on Manhattan by a 25-story, Godzilla-like creature. It ups the ante considerably in terms of budget and effects.
But for all the pre-release fuss, Cloverfield really doesnt amount to much more than a well-produced novelty. Sure, you leave the film buzzing with questions about the gargantuan creature with a taste for skyscrapers but the buzz is ultimately hollow.
There are clues strewn throughout Cloverfield, but the movie isnt about explanations. The monster is truly the largest MacGuffin the movies have ever known.
The ambiguity should come as no surprise, though, since the film is produced by master-of-the-non-reveal, J.J. Abrams (Lost, Alias), and is written by Drew Goddard and directed by Matt Reeves, two men who have worked in the Abrams camp for years and ascribe to his theory that plausible explanations are for wimps.
What drives Cloverfield is its gimmick. The story is told through a single-camera perspective.
It begins with a bit of romantic back story revealed on an about-to-be-videotaped-over tape, which abruptly jumps to a going-away party for Rob (Michael Stahl-David). The camera is reluctantly operated by the oafish Hud (T.J. Platt), who alternately serves as documentarian, busybody voyeur and comic relief.
As the monster attacks and panic and mayhem ensue, Hud never once loses his grip on the camera as he runs through a debris-covered street, dodges military shell fire and makes his way across more than one Manhattan skyscraper.
The first-person perspective gives the film a contemporary YouTube vibe. Cloverfield is masterfully produced in this regard, and the effects, especially the sightings of the monster, are seamlessly digitally integrated. The film feels authentic.
But its characters are a preening, vapid bunch with absolutely nothing to say.
The most interesting thing about Cloverfield is what one might call the online after-party. Cloverfield offers hints, clues and fun little teasers at tie-in viral Web sites like www.slusho.jp, www.tagruato.jp and www.tidowave.com.
Those sites provide possible clues as to what the monster is, where it hailed from and what may come next. One has to admire the detailed density of this approach its marketing genius, allowing potential fans to feed an obsession to the point of pathology.
Some may be offended by one scene in particular that depicts the leveling of what appears to be the Empire State Building because the billowing cloud of street-level dust that follows is evocative of 9/11.
When all is said and done, were left wondering what the point of all of this is.
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