When is a monster movie not a monster movie? When it’s Cloverfield. Yes, there’s a monster in it but it’s a more a catalyst for the plot than an actual antagonist. The film isn’t about the creature, it’s about the several lives being destroyed by it’s arrival. This is in stark contrast to something like A Quiet Place, where the protagonists are actively fending off their monsters but that’s only part of why Cloverfield works so well. It has become an icon of the horror genre, with producer J.J. Abrams being asked about the posibility of a sequel for almost a decade after it’s release. Eventually that sequel would come (sort of) and there would even be a threequel (sort of, we’ll get to that). Even now, the Cloverfield brand lives on, with a fourth installment reportedly in early development.

Even after a decade and the technological advancements that came with it, the simple story of Cloverfield remains tense to sit through. It follows a group of friends through the rapidly crumbling city of Manhattan as they attempt to reach a love interest trapped in her apartment that they can’t even garuntee is still alive. Tension builds through how unpredictable the stability of their surroundings areas are as well as how little is shown on screen. It makes excellent use of the found-footage style of filmmaking, proving the age-old adage that less is more. There are scenes where the monster is seen in it’s entirity but it spends the majority of the plot hidden behind buildings or smoke from debris. The biggest threat is the dog-sized parasites that fall from it’s body and lurk around possibly every corner that our protagonists may walk around. The creature designs are a little more basic than something from H.R. Gieger but they’re still memorable enough. The closest look that is given makes it clear that these creatures are more than a little bit gross, in a shot that stands out as one of the most memorable in the entire franchise.

The characters all feel realistic. None of them are the “hero” of the story, even though primary heartthrob Rob is presented that way. Even before the creature attacks, it’s clear that they lead messy lives. Jason and Lily argue like many couples but, although they may seem frustrated with each other, there is still obviously love there. Hud the cameraman and Marlene who wasn’t even meant to be at the party slowly form a bond over the course of the plot despite him being annoying and her being out of his league. Rob the “hero” is the one determined to save his love interest Beth but, having recently slept with her and not called her back, it feels like it’s primarily motivated out of guilt. Real life, much like this iteration of Manhattan, is messy and Cloverfield never shies away from that.

The cherry on top is the lack of score. There’s a Cloverfield Overture that plays through the credits and continues to keep the audience unsettled even after the plot is over, but the entire film has purely diagetic sound. Aside from making sense, given that this is supposed to be a tape found in Central Park, it allows the sound of silence to echo from the screen. There’s no jumpscare sound effects or quivering violins, the film has to scare with atmosphere alone. Even as the story races towards its conclusion and the action amps up, it never feels like a work of pure fiction. If a creature were to land in the middle of one of the most populated areas in the United States, this is likely how it would go down.

Providing visuals for a hypothetical attack is perhaps the most unnerving part of all.

Signed: Your spooky neighbourhood queer

The Batman (Spoiler-Free)

The “goth” in Gotham stands for gothic. Directors Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher understood that when they adapted Batman for the big screen in the 80s and 90s. The creators of Batman: The Animated Series understood it too, drawing their inspiration from the Burton era and even The Lego Batman Movie knew to give the city some character. It’s an aspect that was noticeably missing from Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy because he wanted a more grounded and realistic tone but to do so is a disservice to Gotham. She’s a character in her own right; grimy and crime-ridden but tough like an old boot. Batman knows her well and works with her to bring criminals to justice, which is perhaps why the noir-inspired iteration by director Matt Reeves works so well.

The Batman sees the titular vigilante taking on a Zodiac Killer-inspired Riddler, whilst having run-ins with local crimelord Oswald Cobblepot (aka The Penguin) and morally-righteous thief Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman). Given the lack of Bruce Wayne in this story, it’s fitting that this film should be dubbed The Batman, which feels like a swift turn after the Wayne-heavy Nolan trilogy. When Bruce does make an appearance it is to further the caped crusader’s story. He’s beaten and disheveled from his night-time antics, attending the funeral of one of The Riddler’s victims, solving his puzzles, and confronting people about the truth behind said puzzles. The Wayne parents, Thomas and Martha, aren’t overly present either. They appear via old news footage and are spared from the over-used flashback to their demise, which is a small but appreciated touch.

One of The Batman‘s biggest flaws is the runtime…all 2 hours and 50 minutes of it. The length itself isn’t inherently an issue, but considering that this has become the standard running time for what feels like the majority of recent movies, it’s a little tiring. It’s almost acceptable when the amount of story being told justifies this length (like with Avengers: Endgame) but that isn’t the case here. Aside from some minor pacing issues throughout, the film falters in its final act. With The Riddler’s final puzzle solved, it feels like the film is coming to a natural conclusion but there is still half an hour left. This half-hour features an unnecessary city-wide catastrophe that is on par with The Dark Knight Rises and, despite serving as a decent conclusion to Batman’s arc, drags.

This isn’t the film’s only flaw either. Martha Wayne and Selina Kyle both undergo minor character alterations that work for the story being told but may displease some fans. The Penguin, as marvelously as he is performed, is still a skinny actor in a fat suit which is an unnecessary casting choice in this day and age. Then there are the facial deformities present on several of the villainous characters, which provides an uncomfortable correlation between the two as well as the mixed messaging of the film. However, what The Batman lacks here, it makes up for with everything else, particularly the tone. Early comic book movies like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man or 20th Century Fox’s X-Men felt like comic books come to life, whilst more recent installments feel more like they are merely based on the characters. The Batman falls into the former category and is simply dripping with atmosphere. The colour palette, production design, characters, and even the weather feel similar to Frank Miller or Alan Moore’s best work. Not to mention Micheal Giachiinos’s score which, while repetitive, captures the same level of heroism as Danny Elfman’s 1989 score.

There are a lot of elements from previous Batman installments in The Batman. It finds a good balance between the gothic griminess of Burton and the character-driven story of Nolan, whilst borrowing the best aspects of Nolan’s villains for The Riddler. Despite some minor flaws, it captures the Dark Knight at his darkest, although that may not be everyone’s cup of tea. There haven’t been enough camp/fun versions of the character and it seems like that won’t be changing anytime soon.

Hopefully, the next one is a bit shorter.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer