Great Big Feet Smell Something Horrible*

Headless Wonder 

We go to see CLOVERFIELD. En route, we pass a tiny boy micturating in the street. He calls to his family just as we pass: “Good thing them people didn’t see ma willy!”

But we DO see CLOVERFIELD.

As Manhattan descends into chaos and looters attack an electronics store, the protags shelter in the shadow of Sephora. “I’d be raiding Sephora,” Fiona remarked.

We dig the little monsters (little things — scarier than big things) and the noise they make, a sort of rapid Three Stooges attack cry; “Eing-eing-eing-eing!” The scariest sound heard in Manhattan since the days of Fulci’s THE NEW YORK RIPPER (who sounded like an angry Donald Duck. Terrifying, actually terrifying!)

Quite early on in this movie I figure out what it is. “It’s a 9:11 nostalgia movie,” I say to Fiona afterwards. “It harks back to the brief time when America could see itself as an innocent victim of an unprovoked attack by a completely inexplicable force.”

At the time, there didn’t seem anything comforting about that idea. But as the moment fades somewhat, it maybe becomes tempting to look back with yearning at that bygone innocence. Thanks to Mr. Bush’s policies, much of the USA has lost that sense of being on the side of righteousness, and more recent movies tackling the Iraq and Alghan wars head-on have tended to be at least somewhat critical of US policy. In fact, the first fictional treatment of the Iraq invasion, Joe Dante’s Masters of Horror episode Homecoming, used a B-movie zombie attack as thin camouflage for a visceral all-out assault on the Bush neo-con administration.

CLOVERFIELD manages to have its conservative cake and eat it, though, because there’s a suggestion that the monster is self-generated, a rogue government project. This is what Hud speculates late in the action, and it’s given a tiny bit of added weight by the title: is the “Cloverfield project” something set up to deal with the inexplicable monster, or was it a pre-existing project that developed the beast in the first place?

The film’s politics are enjoyably incoherent: is the headless Statue of Liberty a metaphor for something? Of course, the upper reaches of Lady Lib have been closed to the public since 9:11, so that’s suggestive. The attack on Manhattan, apart from being staged at night (Al-Qaeda don’t have Hollywood’s sense of showmanship), is of course ridiculously evocative of that day of infamy. I still remember pundits saying that exploding skyscrapers would never again be served up as light-hearted entertainment…

Manhattan malady

*Title: a line from CARRY ON SCREAMING.

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7 Responses to “Great Big Feet Smell Something Horrible*”

  1. David K Says:

    Yeah, the ‘we’ll never see Manhattan destroyed in movies again’ line was carried all over the place just over six years ago (Six Years!).
    How quickly things change.
    I quite enjoyed Cloverfield though. Obviously it has some glaring weaknesses (Did the monster’s size strike you as being somewhat elastic? He can bend down and look into a camcorder at one stage while reaching a helicopter high enough to avoid a cluster bomb attack at another).
    And the ending is a bit drawn out which is annoying considering the film is about an hour and twenty minutes long.
    I quite enjoyed the total lack of info we’re provided. It can probably only be done once but it was nice not having Professor Exposition effectively narrate events for us.
    It also deftly sidestepped the second acts problems that made Godzilla such a laughing stock: “OK a monster the size of the Chrysler Building has just attacked New York and .. now.. it’s …disappeared.. Instead here’s Jean Reno as member of the French foreign legion for the next twenty minutes (ahem..).

    It was scarier than I had anticipated. Not least because of those aforementioned Stooges…
    Cloverfield that is. Not Godzilla. Godzilla wasn’t scary at all.

  2. dcairns Says:

    David Bordwell’s excellent blog has maybe the best posting on Cloverfield, pointing out that what makes it work so well is part of it’s major departure from most big monster movies — they usually cut around from place to place to give an overview of what’s happening. When you limit the POV to one handicam (with inexhaustible batteries) things get much scarier and more realistic, and you have a good excuse to avoid explanations. In the overview-type film, explanations are essential to try and make the impossible seem plausible. When you’re stuck with a fairly dopey bunch of characters, all that matters is that they TRY to figure things out.

    http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/?p=1844

    Oh, another great monster movie without an explanation for its monsters: Tremors. Gotta love Fred Ward.

  3. Love Tremors!

    Cloverfield was very enjoyable too, though mostly through marvelling at the cleverness of it all.

  4. dcairns Says:

    Yeah, it’s nice to see a strong idea followed through so thoroughly. They don’t cop out at all, and the technical execution is really nice.

    “You think maybe these things have always been around?”
    “Oh sure, we just didn’t tell YOU.”
    ~ Tremors

  5. Cloverfield opened big stateside, but fell off precipitously quite quickly. The “Word of Mouth” was terrible. And many moviegoers complained about “motion sickness” from all the hand-held camerawork.

  6. I thought Cloverfield was quite terrible. I particularly disliked the small monsters which were like a crap analogue of the ‘Alien’ and were in my opinion levered into the story much like how the enormous monster was able to tip toe up behind the protagonists near the end to provide us with the money shot. The review in Empire was a joke. They claimed it reinvented movie making … as if no one had ever seen the Blair Witch Project (also rubbish) Aliens or Titanic (lovers doomed by catastrophe).

    Annoyingly though, I’m going to contradict myself by claiming that it IS a first. This is the first videogame inspired movie in my opinion. Not directly, like Resident Evil but using the same experiences. It’s a first person perspective survivor horror experience without the controls.

    On an unrelated note, I’ve got a nomination for Chills or perhaps Euphoria but I suspect it’s already been used. Batty’s speech from the end of Blade Runner but including the exlamation of “Kinship!” as Batty saves Deckard. I’m not good with words and so can’t do justice to explaining how touching, moving and awe inspiring those few words spoken to Deckard are before Batty dies, maybe you could have a go.
    Dan

  7. Thanks for the Blade Runner nomination, I’m sure there’s a whole lot to say about that.

    It’s weird, I don’t tend to get motion sickness from movies, though reading on the bus can do it after a while, so I am susceptible.

    I find it amusing if the public can’t handle the shooting style of Cloverfield, which is inspired by — the public’s own home movies.

    I bet it sells a bunch on DVD though.

    The vid-game comparison is apt, and it’s interesting that it avoids the feeling (for me, anyway) of frustration you get from watching someone else play a game. The director says he modelled the style on camcorder footage of real-life “terrible events”, including war footage from Iraq. Which makes it kind of a loop — John Huston’s Battle of San Pietro inspired the shooting style of Saving Private Ryan, which immediately inspired a run of WWII video games. And now those games are inspiring movies.

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