‘Found Footage’: a style of film making, usually used in horror films, in which all or a substantial part of a film is presented as recovered footage, often left behind by missing or dead protagonists.
It is a very rare thing to find a film shot in the ‘Found Footage’ style that blows you away in every sense possible. Usually they fail to please even the most open-minded cinema goer, with less successful films such as The Last Exorcism and [REC] remake Quarantine that are just not aesthetically pleasing enough to give the viewer what they wanted to see.
Among the more forgettable films that utilized , there have been some great films that include 1999’s The Blair Witch Project which some see as the ultimate horror film, more recently Paranormal Activity and the zombie filled gore-fest [REC]
So where do you go from zombies, ghosts and other supernatural beings?
Enter J.J.Abrams & Matt Reeves (Lost, Alias, Star Trek) with their 2008 offering Cloverfield which sees the story of a group of everyday people, like you and me, fighting for survival as a mysterious behemoth rampages though New York destroying everything and everyone in it’s path. Armed with a HD video camera, the group set off to capture the disaster on film and escape the falling city and the catastrophic events happening around them.
The films main characters are mainly portrayed through unknown actors and actresses to keep the audience away from the sense of familiarity in the time of crisis, all of which give a solid believable performance. Michael Stahl-David stars as Robert Hawkins, the main protagonist of the movie who leads the group on their escape from New York and his rescue of girlfriend Beth, played by Odette Yustman who has mostly been involved in ‘extra’ work since a young age. Both of these characters are given added depth by previous footage on the camera that is often accidentally played when the camera is rewound or damaged. This contributes to the already established relationship between the two characters that gives us more reason to believe Stahl-Davids character Rob, will stop at nothing to save the girl he loves.
Newcomer T.J Miller plays the part of the off screen cameraman Hud superbly, adding comic relief to the dark events that befall the group while being our eyes into the nights events. Rob’s brother Jason and girlfriend Lily are portrayed by Mike Vogel and Jessica Lucas, both characters contribute to the story but also seem to just be present as suplus characters who don’t get as much screen time as some of the previous mentioned characters who all have back stories and more of the memorable lines and scenes. The most well known actress is Lizzy Caplan (Mean Girls, True Blood, 127 Hours) who plays the part of Marlena, a friend of Rob’s who Hud has a crush on. She also provides us with some of the humour as she and Hud exchange banter throughout.
First revealed in 2007 under no name, a trailer emerged that caused a mass online frenzy.The trailer depicted video camera footage of a party and it’s guests leaving good luck messages for a friend leaving for a new job in Japan, only to be interrupted by what seemed to be an earthquake. The guests quickly make their way to the roof to see explosions in the distance and various debris being catapulted across the city. After panicking and rushing down to the front of the building, they see a large object flying towards them. The object crashes out of camera sight, and when we finally get a look at what it is, we see it is the head of the Statue of Liberty.
End Trailer. Cue a genius viral campaign.
And that was it, J J Abrams had instantly captivated his audience, leaving questions such as “Is this the new Godzilla movie?” and various other disaster movie related ideas. Over the next few months, the viral campaigns effort to keep peoples attention grew radically, with frequent uploads such as pictures of destroyed oil rigs, mysterious shapes of creatures underwater, video blogs from characters set to appear in the movie, websites advertising brands and companies within the movie and Myspace pages for each character that remained active until the day before the ‘events’.
The hype that had been created was huge, so it was no surprise that on January 18th 2008 the film was released and thousands flooded to cinemas to quench the thirst that had been tormenting them for the past few months. Cloverfield made $40,058,229 on its opening weekend and was praised by critics all over the world.
The movie is an absolute triumph. Very few flaws and brilliant solid portrayals of the survivors make it a believable story as you find yourself on the edge of your seat, involved in the characters relationships and attempts to survive the catastrophic events in their way. The monster design is completely original and at times, actually terrifying. We only catch glimpses of various parts of the creature throughout the entire night of the attack until we are finally bestowed a look at the monster in it’s full horrifying entirety towards the end of the film. The smaller creatures that are encountered halfway through the survivors ordeal, in the scariest scene of the film, and are very well presented to us, through CGI and animatronics in a claustrophobic battle for survival in the New York subways.
The special effects are not ground breaking in a sense but still fantastically show the horror of the creatures and the destruction of New York. Although the film has gathered up a massive following of fans, some viewers may say they have been ‘cheated’ out of an explanation to the origins and intentions of the creatures, but as I have mentioned before, the story follows a group of everyday people, how are they meant to know anything about what the monster is, where it came from and what it wants? This adds more reality to the film as if you are almost actually there with them knowing as much information about what’s happening as they do during these horrific events.
Available on DVD and Blu-Ray now for a very small price, it is definitely one film that should be seen by all who love cinema. It is fun, frightening, immersing, horrific and spectacular and leaves the audience eagerly awaiting the sequel; one of the very few ‘Found Footage’ films that truly stands out from the rest and deserves praise and publicity.