“Approximately seven hours ago, some… thing attacked the city.”
It takes a lot to upstage a feature film adaptation of Transformers from Michael Bay, but back in 2007, J.J. Abrams and Bad Robot stepped up to the plate. Upon the release of Transformers, a top secret teaser trailer for a mystery horror movie was unleashed upon the audience without their knowledge. Not only did this teaser trailer prompt immense shock and awe, but a ton of speculation as well. The marketing for the mysterious movie was absolutely genius as not only did this teaser trailer premiere before a major wide release, assuring a ton of eyeballs on it, but like the old days of VHS, a bunch of bootlegs of the trailer popped up online.
I did not go to see the Transformers movie in theaters, but having heard about the trailer I sought it out online and checked out the bootlegged teaser someone in the theaters had filmed. I was enamored and absolutely astounded by what I’d seen. This was the way many fans of Cloverfield first experienced it, almost like a top secret tape we collectively stumbled upon.
Upon viewing what was probably a three minute long teaser, Paramount only gave us the date: 1.18.08. For an entire year, we were all left to speculate and attempt to uncover the studio’s mystery. I was hooked. When I say that I was obsessed with the marketing for Cloverfield, I mean that it’s probably the most obsessed that I’ve ever been with a movie’s marketing. Cloverfield wasn’t just a movie, it was a full-on experience with a mythology, a back story, and even an interactive Alternate Reality Game that encouraged you to play along.
Like the Seabed Nectar from Slusho!, the ARG for Cloverfield was just too damn good to resist. I must have watched that bootleg trailer a dozen times, breaking down every moment of it, and then I immersed myself into the theories and message boards. I followed every single update on the official website, and I even scoured the net for potential Easter eggs. Of course when it came to Easter eggs, Cloverfield was an embarrassment of riches, a cornucopia of exhaustive detail and clues that were all at once terrifying, titillating, engaging, and addictive.
Cloverfield premiered as promised on January 18, 2008 and took a lot of cues from Godzilla. It was very much a giant kaiju movie, but tailored for modern audiences. It was set in America, and it was viewed through a found footage lens as opposed to a classic cinematic format. Found Footage was what was in vogue at the time, so it seemed only right that the classic monster movie was updated for the early aughts format. Everyone during that time was beginning to realize the benefit and value of filming everything, so—everyone started filming everything. The footage that makes up Cloverfield is viewed in edited form from the military chronicling one night in New York City when a massive monster emerged from the ocean and tore the city down.
Director Matt Reeves immerses us in the reality of the disaster, exploring the chaos that ensues once the monster begins wreaking havoc. He also boldly conjures up from-the-headlines imagery in one scene where characters flee in to a convenience story for cover as a massive cloud of smoke and ash completely blanket the surrounding area. This allows the monster more cover for the audience to keep its features a secret, sure, but the allusions are intentional, especially when the group emerges to stunned passersby, many donning suits, covered in plaster and rubble.
Cloverfield is a film you can really dig a rabbit hole into, to explore the back story and concepts behind it, or you can enter it in passing and enjoy it for what it is. It’s very much a classic giant kaiju movie in where a massive monster emerges from the sea, tears the city to shreds, and does battle with the military. We focus on four average New Yorkers, all of whom are stuck in the middle of the city with no way out and the clock counting down to the military’s ultimate solution. The monster, codenamed “Clovie,” is nigh indestructible from what it seems, and no matter what the armed forces throw at it, it just seems to get madder and madder.
The premise is deceptively barebones as Reeves sets up main character Rob Hawkins, who experienced a whirlwind fling with friend-turned-lover Beth. After a less than amicable split, Rob takes a big job opportunity in Japan and Beth shows up to his going away party with her new boyfriend. The two split after a fight, and in a moment everything else fades into the background as the monster emerges and begins its reign of destruction. For a majority of Cloverfield, Rob and his friends are essentially in a state of shock as these incredulous circumstances push all their minor quibbles into purgatory. Rob, although the central protagonist, seems to know like everyone else that this is pretty much the end.
All he can do to reconcile coming to grips with this concept is going to find Beth and save her from her high rise apartment. This sets off the film’s narrative which follows Rob, his brother’s girlfriend Lily, friend and camera man Hud, and party goer Marlena trekking across the city to get to Beth. A lot of their planning is basically on the spur of the moment, as there’s an absolutely undeniable air of doom in every moment. At times of great sadness and imminent doom, all we can really do is hold on to our loved ones and wait for the end, and Rob does everything he can to get to Beth before the inevitable end. Rob argues with his cohorts that he’s thinking clearly in his idea to find Beth, but what else can he or anyone else do at that moment?
In a matter of hours his world is demolished, his brother—the only level headed character in the movie–is killed, and the monster has become the ultimate apex predator. The odds of any of them leaving the city before the military enact their “Hammerdown Protocol” – a barrage of high intensity bombs sure to obliterate the monster – are slim to nil as the clock ticks down. To make things even worse, the monster arrives with a swarm of dog-sized parasitic monsters attached to it. They’re fast, relentless, and a single nick from their pincers causes their victims to implode in a bath of blood and guts. What hope is there for anyone? Well, not much at all.
We’re left on an ambiguous note in the final scene. In the closing credits, military command makes it clear that their “Hammerdown Protocol” didn’t affect the monster in the slightest.
Fifteen years later, Cloverfield remains a knock-out horror/science fiction gem. It provided us with an entire movie universe wrapped up in a remarkable giant monster movie tailored for the digital age. It was a pop culture juggernaut that to this day still inspires many of us to take a second look out into the ocean… and wonder what’s lurking below.