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.