Even long before Cloverfield was released the obvious comparisons were being made to The Blair Witch Project. Like The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield was built on viral promotion and its narrative depends the fiction that its shaky camera is actually documenting reality, sacrificing storytelling for the immediacy of shock created when the filter that tells us that what we are watching on the screen isn’t real is subverted. But where The Blair Witch Project was film student gimmickry, by 2008 cameras have become a ubiquitous way for millions of teens and twenty somethings to document their lives. What in the late 90’s might have been a futuristic cautionary tale, in the 00’s is just life.
If The Blair Witch Project was a haunted mansion filled with occasional spooks, Cloverfield is an all out amusement park thrill ride filled with explosions and monsters; but what both have in common is their hollowness. Both movies connect with audiences by stripping away the disconnect between what you are seeing and what you believe is happening. Like an amusement park ride it makes for a giddy experience but doesn’t leave behind anything worthwhile. There is no more point in rewatching Cloverfield than there was in rewatching The Blair Witch Project, the experience of each fulfills its purpose just once. With both movies there is no message, only the medium.
Cloverfield begins by subjecting us to 15 minutes with the movie’s characters going around New York City and a going away party for Rob and those 15 minutes are more horrifying than anything else in the movie because each character competes to be the most vapid and forgettable twenty something on the screen. Imagine the cast of Real World minus anyone interesting on screen for 15 minutes dealing with the city geting attacked and ravaged by monsters and you have a pretty good of what Cloverfield is.
Once the explosions begin and the absurdly undersized head of Lady Liberty catapults into the street, Cloverfield morphs into an unpleasant replay of 9/11 crowd scenes, more shaky camera running and panic substituting for suspense. There’s little here that hasn’t already been seen in Spielberg’s War of the Worlds but this time it’s shot in shakycam and involves whiny twenty somethings. But then Cloverfield is adept at mixing genres. The omnipresent news footage shows soldiers blowing away what look like undersized refugees from Starship Troopers while a WB quality love story goes on in the foreground and buildings topple in the background.