The found footage subgenre is, in large part, used effectively on a small scale to tell horrifying stories for a cheaper price. The genre has been utilized by indie filmmakers who are trying to get a film under their belt, as well as popular mainstream studios who are looking to turn an easy profit. Rarely, though, has the format been used to display widespread destruction, city-wide chaos, and huge, terrifying monsters. That’s why when Cloverfield was released in January of 2008, it took the world by storm, proving to be a breath of fresh air that not only paved the way for found footage to thrive in a new era (Something that Paranormal Activity is frequently credited with, though it didn’t receive a wide American release until the following year), but also pushing the limits of all that could be accomplished with the style of film-making.
I wasn’t yet 17 when Cloverfield was released, but I’d already been a huge fan of found footage flicks such as The Blair Witch Project and The St. Francisville Experiment (A film you probably haven’t seen that, embarrassingly, scared the shit out of me when I was young). I spent the early years of my life fascinated with movie monsters, including Godzilla and King Kong, but those giant, larger-than-life monsters were not the typical basis of the found footage movies that I’d spent my childhood with. This made the accomplishment of Matt Reeves, Drew Goddard, and J.J. Abrams all the more impressive. Not only had they expanded a limited genre of film to one that was capable of large scale storytelling, but they delivered the best American-made “Godzilla” movie that we’ve ever seen.
The film, which was directed by a relatively unknown Matt Reeves (Who is now synonymous with two brilliant Apes sequels AND Batman), follows six young adults in New York City who attempt to escape when a gigantic monster, and several smaller creatures, begin killing people and destroying the landscape around them. Reeves directed Cloverfield brilliantly, showcasing chaotic action and city-wide destruction in a way that only high-dollar Summer blockbusters ever seemed to, without once sacrificing the personal, emotional connections between the characters at the heart of the story. Characters, might I add, that are fleshed out well beyond those of a typical found footage movie. Screenwriter Drew Goddard should be celebrated for such a feat, and it comes as no surprise that he’s moved on to acclaimed projects such as The Cabin in the Woods, The Martian, and Marvel’s Daredevil in recent years.
Aside from Cloverfield‘s technical genius, the film also capitalized on a hot young cast, including the Emmy-nominated Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, and Odette Yustman- each of who deliver solid performances of fear and confusion in the face of life or death disaster, as well as a loving compassion for each other. In order to keep the plot of Cloverfield a secret (The growing franchise is steeped in secrecy. Nobody knew of 10 Cloverfield Lane‘s existence until the trailer dropped), actors auditioned with the scripts from producer J.J. Abrams other work, most notably Alias and Lost. The cast landed their parts while performing scenes from these series, as well as scenes that were specifically written for the audition that were never intended to be a part of the film.
- J.J. Abrams had the idea for a new monster while promoting Mission: Impossible III in Japan. He and his son visited a toy store, saw many Godzilla toys, and that’s when he decided to create an “insane and intense” American movie monster.
- The severed head of the Statue of Liberty was inspired by the poster for John Carpenter’s Escape from New York.
- Matt Reeves has an uncredited voice cameo during the post-credits radio message.
- Cloverfield was the initial title choice for the film, but due to the hype caused by the teaser trailer, the name changed multiple times throughout production to preserve secrecy. Alternate titles included Greyshot and Slusho and Cheese.
- Though the budget was only $25 million, Cloverfield was ambitiously made to look as though it cost at least $150 million to make.
- After viewing an earlier cut of the film, iconic director Steven Spielberg suggested that the audience should be given a hint at the fate of the monster during the movie’s climax, resulting in the addition of a countdown being overheard on a helicopter radio, as well as air raid sirens that signal an oncoming bombing.
- Cloverfield implores intense sequences of shaky-cam, which caused some viewers to experience motion sickness, nausea, and loss of balance in the theater.
- Nick Tom and Phil Tippett (Who’s work appears in both Star Wars and Jurassic Park) were enlisted to create the visual main effects. Since the effects were added after filming wrapped, cast-members reacted to nothing during their scenes, with only early versions of the creature design in mind.
Ten years following its release, Cloverfield remains one of the greatest found footage movies in the subgenre’s catalog. The monster flick remains relevant due to 2016’s loosely connected 10 Cloverfield Lane, and a third film in the franchise, God Particle, which is due out later this year. There are many great horror films celebrating a 10th anniversary this year, and Cloverfield is among the best. “It’s like a nightmare!”
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