Cloverfield Paradox (2018)

Cloverfield Paradox is the latest instalment in the Cloverfield franchise, masterminded by JJ Abrams, and one of the more interesting series around at the moment in terms of both content and marketing strategy. After a largely web-based teaser campaign, 2008’s Cloverfield (directed by Matt Reeves), a monster movie with a found footage conceit, was launched to critical and popular acclaim. Then a whole eight years later its pseudo-sequel, or possibly “sidequel”, was sneaked out fairly quietly. 10 Cloverfield Lane (directed by Dan Trachtenberg) was a pleasant surprise in every way. It is a tight, riveting Hitchcockian psycho-thriller that for much of the screen time may have existed in a different universe altogether to the original.

So, it is true to form that Cloverfield Paradox would have a really sneaky surprise release – it was only picked up very recently by Netflix, and teased during the Superbowl on Sunday 4th February minutes before its availability. It is also consistent that it would have a new set of characters in an altogether different film genre. This time, it’s horror sci-fi.

The film is directed by Julius Onah and stars an ensemble cast of talented actors that includes Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ziyi Zhang, David Oyelowo and Daniel Brühl. They play an international collection of navigators, engineers and the like on a last-ditch attempt in space to solve earth’s critical energy issues and consequently its impending world war. To do so, they will have to attempt some tricky and dangerous things with a particle accelerator on a station above the earth. Meddling with forces somewhat beyond their control, they find themselves crashing into another dimension. Then the story turns into a haunted house in space.

The premise is interesting enough, but this movie suffers from an inability to ever really get unclogged from its narrative issues. Like too many ensemble cast films, this one has a slew of aborted attempts to develop individual narratives, and not enough building of relationships between the characters. One case would be the ship’s doctor known as ‘Monk’. In one scene, it is established that where some see him as an ignorant zealot, others respect him as a spiritual leader. But nothing more comes of this. This is one of those big films that feels like too many cooks had a hand in the pie. The body horror elements are not built suspensefully, and are undercut by clumsy staging and a limping humour that does nothing but muddy the tone, sucking tension out of the story.

Connections to the rest of the Cloverfield narrative are not entirely spelled out, although the main elements can be surmised, and for this reason, the completists may find this movie a mildly diverting experience. Unfortunately, Cloverfield Paradox doesn’t offer much more.

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