Cloverfield gave me a headache

I’ve just watched J. J. Abram’s new flick Cloverfield and it’s given me a massive headache. The Blair Witch-style camera movement is claustrophobic, non-stop, and at times unbearable. Just imagine a film you’ve recorded on your camera equipped mobile phone and then spliced together pretty much randomly on your PC’s video editing software, and you’ll get the idea. With a running time of only 90 minutes it’s very short, perhaps because test audiences were getting extreme motion sickness and had to be sedated.

Or maybe the mobile phone’s memory card ran out of storage space? When something dramatic happens, which after the first 20 minutes is pretty much the entire movie, the camera goes nuts. The camera operator has probably been locked up by now.

Apart from the odd special effect here and there, Cloverfield would have been very cheap to make (after all, mobile phones are quite inexpensive nowadays).

So does this mean I hated the film? Has my headache tainted my viewpoint? Is the rest of this article going to be a rant about how motion sickness can wreck a movie going experience? Perhaps surprisingly, no. While I still have a headache (the tablet hasn’t kicked in just yet) there are a lot of things Cloverfield gets right.

Intriguingly, while the motion sickness inducing camera style is one of Cloverfield‘s greatest weaknesses, it’s also one of its strengths. For much of the time the film focuses on a group of twenty something Americans (amazingly attractive twenty something Americans of course), and we are drawn into their world more rapidly than you might expect. An event in the city during a farewell party, at first believed to be an Earthquake, rapidly escalates into something more sinister.

There are lots of close ups, no panning or aerial shots, and numerous jump cuts to keep it all moving. The claustrophobic, focused camera work makes you feel close to the action, as if you’re watching raw footage of an event on the news or something you’ve witnessed yourself and recorded for posterity. That’s the idea I guess, and probably one of the film’s attractions.

In particular, early scenes of buildings collapsing and smoke and debris billowing through a city street while crowds run screaming appear deliberately designed to recall footage from September 11. I doubt they would have released this movie two or even three years after the Twin Towers fell.

The monster scenes are great and surprisingly well done considering the limitations that this style of movie making imposes. I won’t give away anything about what the creature is, or where it comes from (because even after watching the movie there’s not much I can tell you) but it all looks very impressive. There are a few gripping, horror filled moments too. The scene in which one of the characters is taken away by the military is particularly compelling. The sparse humour is cheesy, but the dialogue realistic.

So should you go and see Cloverfield? That really depends on what type of movie experience you’re after. In the end, while it is engaging, I, and the friends I saw it with, found the experience ultimately unsatisfying. There’s little if anything in the way of direct explanation when all is said and done – quite surprising for a Hollywood movie – and in this case a negative rather than a positive.

Even so, in the very last moments of the film, pay attention to something happening in the background. It’s very easy to miss and may give us some clues…

I still haven’t worked out what Cloverfield stands for, so if anyone has any idea let me know. My only guess is that it’s the code name the military gave to the incident.

If you do decide to go, bring motion sickness tablets if you’re susceptible.

Cloverfield was released on 17 January.