Wednesday, August 6, 2014


The first modern "found footage" horror film was THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999). Since then, there have been dozens of these types of film produced including PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2007), REC (2007), QUARANTINE (2008) and CHRONICLE (2012). It's easy to see why so many of these "found footage" films have been produced in the last few years. They're relatively cheap to produce, they don't require the presence of big name actors and special effects can be relatively minimal. These low budget horror/science fiction/fantasy films have become their own sub-genre and the format/gimmick has yet to run its' course.

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was accompanied by a boatload of online buzz when it was first released back in the infancy of the digital age. Internet chatter had some people convinced that the film was real (it wasn't). The hype positioned BWP as one of the scariest movies ever made (it's not). I saw the film in the theater on first release. I didn't like it. I thought the idea/concept was clever and fairly well executed but I hated the three characters and really didn't care what happened to them. Plus, the "plot" of the film depended upon them behaving stupidly instead of logically in order to place them into increasing jeopardy. And the last shot of the film elicited a "WTF?" from me as I was unsure about exactly what I was seeing and what it was supposed to mean.

Nonetheless, BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, produced on a budget between $500,000 and $750,000, made $248,639,099. The handwriting was on the wall. "Found footage"films could be money in the bank for entry level filmmakers. 

CLOVERFIELD, a found footage science fiction film produced by J.J, Abrams (director of STAR TREK, SUPER 8, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS and the upcoming STAR WARS: EPISODE 7) had a considerably larger budget than BLAIR WITCH but it still operates on the same gimmick. I watched the film for the first time yesterday and I really enjoyed it. 

CLOVERFIELD is an Americanized Godzilla movie with a gigantic, bipedal (non-saurian) monster attacking New York City. But the conceit of the film is that we see the attack solely from the point of view of one person's hand held digital camera. The film starts at a going-away party in a lower Manhattan loft attended by a bunch of twenty-somethings. This sequence is necessary to set everything up and introduce the major players but once again, I didn't like any of these kids and I thought the scene went on way too long. I kept wanting the story to get to the monster and it does sooner rather than later. Once the attack begins, everything plays out in real time and the action and suspense never lets up as four young people run through the streets of New York trying to avoid the monster and save one of their friends who is trapped in her apartment near Central Park.

As in BLAIR WITCH, CLOVERFIELD depends upon its' characters behaving stupidly in order to advance the story. And once again, I didn't particularly like any of the young people. What I did like were the special effects and action sequences which are very convincing. There are no cutaways to other characters and story lines. We know practically nothing about the monster. Where did it come from? What is it? Is it really dead at the end of the film? This sense of not-knowing adds to the suspense and reality of the situation.

CLOVERFIELD resonates with images from 9-11. Director Matt Reeves (who helmed this summer's DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES) does a masterful job of making everything flow smoothly. The special effects are first rate. Three quarters of the film was shot on back lots and in sound stages in California. The crew spent only one week on location in New York City. But everything fits together nicely and I was convinced that these characters were really in a Manhattan under attack by a gigantic monster.

Once you get past the loft scene, CLOVERFIELD is a pedal-to-the-medal science fiction thriller. I enjoyed the hell out of it. Thumbs up!

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