Japan has pretty much nailed the giant monster destroying a city market. Said giant monsters, called kaiju –meaning strange beast in Japanese- refers to the both the monsters and the genre of films about destroying cities and even fighting each other. The first film in the genre, Gojira, known to Americans as Godzilla, premiered in 1954. From there, a genre was born.
Since that first fateful attack on Tokyo by a guy I a rubber suit, more monsters have appeared, many coming into conflict or the assistance of Godzilla himself, though plenty have remained distinct, such as Gamora, a benevolent monster and friend to children. Many of these monsters are used as allegories for environmental damage or warfare. The first Godzilla movie served as a metaphor for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for example.
Though the genre proved incredibly popular in Japan for over six decades, and equally as popular in the West for nearly as long, efforts to recreate the genre in Western studios has created mixed results.
The genre of lost footage style movies, launched by The Blair Witch Project, is another tricky genre to film for. The idea of making essentially a home movie out of a regular movie creates a lot of challenges from a cinematic as well as acting viewpoint. Naturally, then, someone decided to mix the two tricky genres. The result was Cloverfield.
The 2008 film follows a group of New Yorkers as they seek to escape New York following its attack by a giant monster. Sound familiar? Despite the home movie style of the film –a camcorder held by one of the characters in this instance- the cinematic method lends a couple points to the film. Not a kaiju film in the typical sense, Cloverfield is really more of a survival horror film with a giant monster thrown in for fun. The monster itself is rarely glimpsed and never properly seen in its entirety. This helps keep the monster creepy, one of the oldest tricks in the horror genre that dates back to when it was a guy loaded with makeup or in a rubber suit.
The use of the camcorder style lends the film a rapid, frantic pace and narrow point of view that accentuates the survival horror aspect. Instead of a story of the nation rallying to fight off a giant monster, it’s a story of some regular folks trying to get out of town while there’s still a town to get out from. Though not much of a giant monster movie in the regular sense, it is a perfectly fine, suspenseful thriller that is fun to watch for the style of film it reflects. The camera effects might make you a bit queasy if you’re not used to them, but overall Cloverfield is a fine film about people struggling to survive a disaster in a major city. In that way, as a metaphor for such catastrophes, it does give homage to the kaiju genre. Though it might not be part of the genre, it is very aware of its roots.