Yep, I’m finally at the last day, with the fifteenth and final horror movie on my list. Keep in mind that the basis for this was a Facebook meme where you list the first fifteen horror movies that pop into your head, and since then, I’ve been second-guessing myself and remembering all sorts of fantastic horror films.
I think Cloverfield was the last horror movie I saw in theaters, so that’s probably the reason I picked it as number 15. (What, I don’t watch a lot of films in the theater.) It also caters to my childhood love of kaiju movies and disaster flicks. Giant monster attacks a major city (New York), causes havoc; the military has futile attempts to kill it (this time sans Toho’s giant rockets and mecha); a small batch of protagonists attempt to escape the area.
It’s another capable entry in the “found footage”/shakycam genre started by the Blair Witch Project, which would have most certainly been on this list if I hadn’t paid so much attention to the hype then found out the actors were still alive before going out to see it. Even then, I think Cloverfield was much more effective and believable in its shakycam roots. I’d want to snag as much visual data as possible if there was a giant monster running around; I’d probably save my batteries if I was one of three morons stuck out in the woods. Blair Witch is spooky because of the weird occurrences; we know damn well there’s a giant monster running amok in New York, and that tangible threat was more convincing to me.
I think the kaiju angle needs to be properly emphasized. Cloverfield is to post-9/11 New York as Gojira was to postwar Japan. The strange culture of fear is paralleled, if a bit exaggerated, in the monster’s attack. The average citizen is helpless; the armed forces cannot defend them; there was little to no prior warning before the Statue of Liberty’s head rolled down the street. (It’s sad when that CGI head is the fake-looking part in a series of shots bloated with CGI: the graphics in this film are almost always top-notch.)
Why is it scary?
There’s a scene in the film where the characters are walking around in the abandoned subway tunnels, and one of the characters (the cameraman) announces, “Remember how there was some guy down in here years ago setting fire to bums?” (Sadly Rich had just left for the restroom, since that defines about half of his RPG characters.) That scene was priceless; a few moments later, the characters are attacked by the poisonous water-fleas the big giant monster has accumulated, which cause horrific and fatal death to anyone they bite.
Aside from the subway scenes scaring the crap out of me, I think Cloverfield uses its found footage setup quite effectively in conveying terror. We don’t see the monster, but we see a lot of devastation; we feel for these characters who we already know something about, and want them to escape before the inevitable nukes come out.
Again, this is not a particularly scary movie. It doesn’t have the same psychological horror as Mouth of Madness, or the paranoia of The Thing, or the jump-out-and-scream thrills of a good slasher film.
I do have some complaints about it, too; I haven’t seen it in a while but I don’t remember the shakycam footage annoying me as much as the fact we get a damn good view of the monster right before the end. Giant monsters work fine in one of two ways: show it to us from the beginning (more or less), ala King Kong or Gojira, or keep it hidden for as long as possible and don’t allow us to watch it just stand there and stare at us. It’s like J.J. Abrams wanted us to know exactly what the monster looked like… and it looked like some overgrown mutant bat. I liked the random concept art where it was Whalethulhu better, and giving away all the monster’s detail was a bad move.