Monster movies are a genre all their own. They aren’t quite horror films. They aren’t quite action films. Traditional monster flicks like Godzilla or The Blob are now considered camp, and have been supplanted with more human-sized creatures like Predator or Aliens. The reason for this switch out is simple. As far fetched as those modern monsters are, they are not nearly as ridiculous as Godzilla, King Kong, or the Blob. Please be warned, that as is frequently the case with our reviews, this article contains spoilers.

A Return to Monster Island

Cloverfield is significant in its use of a monster in that the beast is monstrous– a life form on a scale beyond anything humanity had previously encountered. This clearly adds to the fear the monster creates. While something that stalks from the shadows like a wolf is terrifying, this inescapable behemoth is equally upsetting. It barrels through Manhattan, destroying all in its path. The military is unable to stop it, and their constant onslaught of gunfire only makes it angrier– hearkening back to Godzilla.

The film only alludes to the monster’s origin. It is never confirmed whether it was a space alien, an experiment gone wrong, or a creature from the depths of the sea. There are some hints. It comes out of the water– attacking a freighter and the Statue of Liberty before coming aground in New York City. It has parasites similar to the lice found on whales. They too are much larger, adding in the Alien/Predator feel to fill the treacle.

Other articles have suggested that Cloverfield’s monster is tied into the mysterious bloop. Bloop is an ultra low frequency sound the US military has detected underwater. The mysterious sound comes from deep underwater and of this sound, they are only certain about two things: one, it has to be made by an animal; and two, to make a sound this loud, the creature must be far larger than blue whales, the largest animals known to have ever lived. This compelling mystery fuels the hype around this film and into deep sea research.

It isn’t appropriate to dig too deeply into the science behind the monster. First of all, as in all monster movies, no matter how ridiculous the origin, the beast symbolizes something. Godzilla was a symbol of humanity’s arrogance– the beast was created by nuclear testing. People were unprepared to deal with the results of their tests. Second, no creature the dwells deep in the sea could survive on the surface. The obvious respiratory issues aside, immense changes in pressure and exposure to the sun’s radiation would’ve likely finished it off long before bombs did. Though it is feasible that a creature able to withstand the immense crushing weight of environments of the ocean floor would be able to withstand modern munitions, the enormous arsenal that was tossed against this creature was overwhelming.

What Story?

This brings us back to our first point– what did the animal symbolize? Is he a product of global warming, of the unsettling of the Earth by man’s carelessness? Was it a stranger from outer space, placed by fate on a collision course with humanity? Neither of these questions are relevant. What is relevant in this story is how the monster relates to the people. Cloverfield is different because it was quite literally told from the point of view of the man on the street. The characters in the film carry around a camera they were using to record a celebration which was interrupted. The camera angles, the action, the story, is all relative to them, and not to the monster.

In this scenario the monster is transformed into force of nature which sweeps in and takes everything away from those involved. Since most of the characters do not survive, and their homes and lives are literally obliterated, the monster becomes akin to a hurricane, an earthquake, a war, or some other faceless entity which callously washes away people as if they were ants. Was that hurricane a result of global warming? Was that war a result of some outside influence? As in the case of a survivor’s story, that is ultimately irrelevant.

This is where Cloverfield differentiates itself from other films, but perhaps where it fails. While we get a far more human feeling from this story, it is a genuine struggle to relate to the vapid, frivolous ninnies who become embroiled in these events. Faux-heroism and teenaged drama reduce their lives to the stuff of military archives, and alienate the audience from truly feeling anything other than horror at the monster’s appearance and nature. Hopefully film makers which make these stylistic choices in the future will be more inclined to work on character and plot when placing so much emphasis on them.

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