Showing posts with label monster movie. Show all posts
Showing posts with label monster movie. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Found Footage Horror Project: Cloverfield

As always, written in the Spring of 2012 for an independent study...This one ends kind of abruptly, but oh well.

Cloverfield is an anomaly within the subgenre of found footage horror, despite fitting into a few tropes. With a budget of $25 million and distribution by Paramount Studios, it has a considerably higher budget than most found footage horror films. Writings on the film are split between its placement within post-9/11 horror and its advertising campaign, which was based around an alternate-reality game (ARG) – a form of viral marketing. Before the film was released, clues as to what the film was about exactly were left around the internet for spectators to view and speculate on how it pertained to the film. I am more concerned with Cloverfield’s placement within post-9/11 horror rather than its marketing. While the marketing for the film is fascinating, it seems a bit odd to look at four years after the film was released and after repeat viewings.

The traits of post-9/11 horror tends to concern imagery similar to that of 9/11 coverage by mainstream and amateur media (fallen or shaky cameras; people fleeing on foot by running or walking slowly en masse; rubble, dust, debris, papers flying; shots of other citizens filming or taking pictures), lack of a government presence, nihilistic endings, and mourning. Cloverfield has all of these things in varying degrees, but contained to Manhattan. Most famously, the head of the Statue of Liberty is used as a bowling ball, but skyscrapers are partially demolished, the Brooklyn Bridge is destroyed, and a tanker is overturned in the Hudson River. The mainstream media is just as confused as the citizens. In the scene in the electronics store, all of the TVs are set to a news channel except for one – it is showing a fish newscaster on Spongebob Squarepants. Unlike previous found footage horror films such as Cannibal Holocaust and Blair Witch Project, there is no mass drive to film the events. Hud, the character who is taping the events, is the only character who sees some sort of value in documenting the night of the monster’s attack. Cloverfield is perhaps the first found footage horror film that is supposedly filmed using a consumer camcorder by an amateur, not a filmmaker. There is little government presence within the film – the president is mentioned over the radio once. The soldiers in the film seem to be just as confused as the citizens, except for knowing what happens to people who are bitten by the creatures that fall off of the monster. Despite the fact that there seems to be no effort towards pulling people from the rubble of buildings or the Hudson River, and the other soldiers seem to be deterring such actions, one kindly soldier allows Rob, Lily, and Hud to retrieve Beth from her building in mid-town Manhattan. While there is not a long stretch of mourning in the film, the brief scenes of mourning for Jason and Marlena are longer than your average disaster or horror film. Homay King writes that the occasional cut-ins to Rob and Beth’s day at Coney Island a month before the attack also serves as a form of mourning in the film. The cut-ins are a part of the film’s aesthetic that Hud is taping over their day at Coney Island by accident, adding to the amateur technique.  King, as well as Kevin Wetmore discusses the final scene in Central Park, where Rob and Beth say their final words to the camera before the military bombs Manhattan. They mourn the loss of their friends lives as well as their own and others. It is debatable just how nihilistic the ending for Cloverfield is. There is one survivor amongst the group of friends the film follows – Lily. While some applauded the film upon its release for having a woman of color as the Final Girl, Lily’s survival is completely by chance. She did not defeat the monster, she was just forced onto the helicopter that was not attacked by the monster. Wetmore, Aviva Briefel, and Sam Miller all write that the attacks on 9/11 were random, as was who survived the attacks, and this is reflected in horror films in the past decade.

Daniel North writes that producer J.J. Abrams intended to create a post-9/11 monster that is the United States equivalent to Godzilla. Homay King writes of the murmurs in the film of the monster’s origins, apparently of a Japanese company (the company that manufactures Slusho, who Rob works and is moving to Japan for) drilled too far into the ocean. King sees this as a reversal of the Godzilla storyline, where Godzilla was created by the US dropping atomic bombs on Japan. Others speculate that you can see something falling from the sky and into the ocean in the footage of Rob and Beth at Coney Island. Within the film, the origin and fate of the monster is unknown. Some believe that there are actually two, even three monsters in the film. This is understandable because the monster that attacks the helicopter and the one that is at Central Park at the end of the film do look different. Cloverfield is not only some combination of monster, disaster, sci-fi, and horror films, it is also a quest narrative according to North. Rob walks through Manhattan with his friends to retrieve the injured Beth from her apartment building that has been partially knocked over by the monster, just so he can profess his love to her.

There are some odd qualities to Cloverfield. The timestamp from the camcorder disappears from the footage about ten minutes into the film, only reappears when there are cut-ins to the Coney Island footage. The military almost always seems to be in off-screen space. The strangest example is after the Brooklyn Bridge is attacked, and Rob decides to go find Beth. As he, Marlena, Lily, and Hud walk through the streets, they suddenly come upon the monster further up the street. It is not until the military starts shooting that we see that they have apparently been walking behind the group the entire time. This occurs again towards the end of the film when Hud sharply pans to his left to show the monster stepping on a tank and more soldiers. North discusses the monster rarely being seen or caught on camera, but I disagree to an extent. Hud and occasionally the media catch more footage of the monster as the film goes on. It may be quick footage, but it is almost enough to understand what the monster looks like.  Kevin Wetmore briefly discusses Marlena’s death as being that of a “monster suicide bomber,” although it is unknown whether or not she killed the medical staff that dragged her into the quarantine tent when she exploded.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Found Footage Horror Project: Rec 2, Troll Hunter, Apollo 18

In the Spring of 2012, I completed an independent study on Found Footage Horror. Specifically, Found Footage Horror that dealt with diseases, infections, zombies, and conspiracies, since the subgenre has become so huge these past few years that it has its own little subsections of threats. Since the only films academics have written about so far are Cloverfield and Diary of the Dead, I had to piece together my own readings much of the time. The response papers may evolve a little bit between that and the decision of my professor and I to steer away from trying to connect these films to post-9/11 horror.

My response paper on Rec 2, Troll Hunter, and Apollo 18 is below This was written during the time of the quarter where I was becoming more pressed for time and burnt out and frustrated not just with school, but with this actual project. Rec 2 caused me to run through a gamut of emotions from laughter to sadness to anger, because I think this could be a good series if the makers actually gave a shit. Apollo 18 in particular was pretty awful and I fast-forwarded through at least half of it. This was one of the impetus' (impetii?) for my professor to direct me towards the earlier Found Footage Horror films for my final paper.

Directors Paco Plaza and Jaume Belaguero appear to spend a lot of time devoted to making sure the actual temporal continuity of the Rec series is correct, but at the sacrifice of everything else*. They appear to want the entire series to take place in the space of one night. The first two films take place at the same apartment building in Barcelona, and it is not until the third film that the location is changed. Rec 2 is a largely silly film that answers no questions posed in the first, and messes with or changes many of the ideas put forth in the first film. This seems to be a mockery. At the end of the film it is still unknown as to who found all of this footage and why it was released. Rec 2 is almost two films in one. The first half focuses on a SWAT team with helmet cameras plus one cameraman who go into the quarantined apartment building with a Ministry of Health member thinking that they are there to try to find survivors. The Ministry of Health member is actually a priest looking for a vial of the blood of the possessed girl in the attic at the end of the first film. Her blood can create an antidote, although the virus is not rabies, it is actually demonic possession. This part of the film seems to become one homage on top of another – Aliens, The Thing, any given demonic possession or zombie film. There is very little obvious editing throughout the first half of the film, perhaps because there are so many cameras involved. The second half of the film follows a group of obnoxious pre-adolescents with a video camera (running on half battery power when they are introduced) as they follow the father of the sick little girl and a firefighter who drove the truck belonging to the two firefighters, all from the first film. The father and firefighter manage to sneak into the building from the sewer, and the kids follow, but they are soon sealed into the building as the police are welding the entrances and exits from the building to the sewer shut. As a result, the SWAT team and the second group soon meet in the building. The most amusing thing about Plaza and Belaguero is that they have no qualms of portraying children terribly and in an unsentimental manner, although this is nothing new in Spanish horror**. The second half of the film features more editing via the kids’ video camera frequently having to be turned off to conserve battery power, and it eventually dying altogether.

Troll Hunter, on the other hand, appears to be pretty open about their mockery of found footage horror. It is likely the first film I have watched in this study that is clear in every aspect. The footage was anonymously sent to the studio that produced Troll Hunter, all 283 minutes of it, which was then edited by the studio. The cuts are noticeable. Troll Hunter seems to double as a parody of found footage horror films and as a film promoting tourism in Norway. Its premise is that three student filmmakers have disappeared after following around a troll hunter. There is frequent running through the woods, night vision, and fallen cameras. The footage appears to have been released to reveal that there are trolls in Norway and to aid in finding the three filmmakers – the two women appear to have been grabbed by the government, and the director may have been hit by an 18-wheeler while running away from government agents. The only mystery to the film is whether or not Hans the troll hunter was the one who betrayed them.

Apollo 18 confused its chronology within the first five minutes of the film. The footage processed in post-production to look as if it came from the early 1970s. While The Blair Witch Project was genuinely shot on older cameras, Apollo 18 genuinely looks like something filtered through a video version of the Instagram app. Apollo 18 features frequent voiceovers. It is a good example of asynchronous sound, but beyond that, it is a hard movie to watch. It is not very interesting, and seems made to appeal to people who are into moon landing conspiracies. I fast-forwarded through much of it and have no desire to look at or study it further.

Postscripts 2014:
* I have come to the conclusion that Plaza and Belaguero are trolling everyone with the Rec series. After my disappointment in re-watching Rec and Rec 2 for this project, I watched Rec 3 in the Fall of 2012 and rather enjoyed it. Rec 3 drops the "found footage" premise 20 minutes into the film and moves into a straight and rather fun narrative. Rec 3 manages to connect to the first two films rather loosely, but cleverly manages not to dwell on it, although taking place the same night as the first two films.
**See also Plaza and Belaguero's X-Mas Tale (an older review of this film will be posted soon enough), Who Can Kill a Child?