As is probably the case with many members of the current generation, my introduction to horror was through the Youtube algorithm. When I was younger, I remember being incredibly-susceptible to scares. The memory of the SCRE4M trailer playing before my Lord of the Rings DVD and my being unable to skip it is fresh in my memory despite being around a decade ago, and once horror began to pique my interest, the film was at the top of my watchlist. Due to my earlier aversion to horror, I would steer clear of recommended videos that I could tell were in that realm. Eventually, however, I found my way to clicking on one. Though I can’t remember exactly what the video was or who made it, I can remember it being a video recapping and explaining a horror movie. While I now find most of that genre of content lazy and uninspired, it would eventually lead me to the world of ARGs (Alternate Reality Games). ARGs use the internet as a medium for creating puzzles and mysteries that ‘players’ must solve. Watching videos recapping the narratives and investigations of these games, I was struck by how real and immersive they felt. I began to realize where the appeal of horror lay as the stories and scares took root in my mind.
I can’t say that I even remember what my first actual horror movie was, more likely than not it was some low-budget flick that got thrown on Netflix and forgotten by pretty much everyone (me included, evidently). My first foray into big-budget horror was, funnily enough, Godzilla (2014). While most wouldn’t consider it an actual horror movie (and nowadays I’m inclined to agree), the horror-y elements lay in the utter sense of helplessness that Godzilla instilled. The story revolved around giant creatures that could, on a whim, mow through entire cities, killing tens of thousands by most conservative accounts. Neither Godzilla nor the MUTOs so much as noticed any of the human characters, and while many found the lead characters boring, I consider them necessary to set the stage, introducing audiences to the ant before we can see a boot from its perspective. And my love for the immersion of ARGs compounded with that new-found, existential fear, leading me to Cloverfield.
Cloverfield is an on-the-ground disaster movie where the disaster is angry. Shot entirely in a found-footage style, we follow a group of party-goers as they try to survive while a monster tears through New York City. In a lot of ways, Cloverfield feels like a Motion Simulation Ride at a theme park, as the characters face obstacles and diversions to various locations that allow the movie to showcase the full scope of chaos happening thanks to Clover (the nickname that’s been adopted for the monster) and its rampage. Going from rooftops to subway tunnels and facing Clover, infectious, crab-like parasites that live on its skin, and even the US Military, the group has everything thrown at them as they try to make it out of New York. At the end of the movie, it isn’t even the monster that kills the remaining two survivors, as they’re caught in bombs dropped to try to kill Clover. With their death ends our viewpoint into the plot of the movie, meaning that the fate of Clover and the rest of the world remains almost entirely unclear. Where Godzilla had a scientist to explain why the monsters were acting the way they were, Cloverfield has no such interest in dispelling the mystique of the disaster. If anyone knows what Clover wants, our points-of-view sure don’t have the government clearance to get that information.
As a companion to the movie, an official tie-in ARG was run to promote the release. This ARG would reveal information about the world of Cloverfield while working to establish character backgrounds. The ARG was far-reaching, setting up social media accounts for characters within the world (some of whom would actually appear in Cloverfield while others were relevant either through their connection to the film’s characters or their relationship to the meta-narrative established in the ARG), pages for companies that didn’t exist outside of the “Cloververse”, and allowing players to piece together a larger story that led directly into the first movie. This marketing strategy would return for 10 Cloverfield Lane, the film’s sequel, and it would later hit the mainstream, though most blockbusters would use it to a far less involving extent, with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier recently making a tourism page for their fictional city of Madripoor, a site that has teased several connections to the larger Marvel Universe when thoroughly explored. Both Amazon and Marvel Studios would each launch an in-universe news channel for The Boys and Ant-Man respectively, a marketing strategy that, while less interactive than any ARG, uses the realistic delivery approach in order to organically world-build in the lead-up to future entries.
Cloverfield’s impact would be felt years after its release. It was a critical and financial success and would spawn the “Cloververse” along with furthering the already underway rise of found-footage movies in the wake of Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activities‘ successes. Along with its impact on the film-sphere, it would also solidify my newfound interest in the world of horror. Cloverfield’s sheer scale and sense of helplessness would later pull me towards the general realm of cosmic horror. And while I would eventually branch out into other horror, finding the appeal of hauntings, slashings, the darkly funny, and more, to this day, when presented with a wide range of horror, I always find myself pulled to the infinite, the unknowable, the vast… more on that in the future though.
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