Two years ago, Paramount blew our minds by dropping a trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane during the Super Bowl. The trailer was pretty good, but what the trailer told us was even better. First, there was going to be a new movie in the Cloverfield franchise. Second, and maybe more shocking, this movie that no one had ever heard of was coming out in three months. This past Super Bowl, Netflix took that model and broke the mold by introducing yet another Cloverfield entry, and telling us it was coming out in a matter of hours. This was a brilliant marketing move, but unfortunately for Netflix, they wasted it on an properly sub-par movie.
This film does have a few things going for it, as it’s accrued an exceptional cast. Daniel Brühl, Chris O’Dowd, and Academy Award nominee David Oyelowo, are all fantastic, and anchored by a truly stellar leading woman Gugu Mbatha-Raw. I’ve not seen Gugu in anything before, but I was delighted to watch a great performance that took me entirely by surprise. Her character has the only real emotional arc throughout the film, and she’s more than capable of delivering heart and depth the entire time on screen.
The Cloverfield Paradox is also an exceptionally made film, as nearly every technical aspect is brilliant. In many ways this is a space set horror a la Alien and the video game Dead Space. The films production design and especially cinematography accent the tone quite well. Things are shot in tight, narrow spaces and off-kilter angles, giving everything an uncomfortable and claustrophobic feel. Paradox uses the language of cinema to great effect, and the way it holds your eye is incredible and necessary for a film that will primarily be seen in people’s living rooms.
Now for my two big problems, which can ironically both be found in the title. However, to adequately express my negative thoughts towards this film, I feel it necessary to give you a bit of a back story. See, this film was not always titled The Cloverfield Paradox, in fact, it wasn’t originally even apart of the Cloverfield franchise. It was originally titled God Particle, and was supposed to simply be a stand alone Sci-Fi/Thriller. After the film was already shot, Paramount thought it would be a good idea to rope it into the Cloverfield universe.
This leads my to my first massive flaw of the movie, it makes no sense for this to be a Cloverfield film. There are two concurrent plot lines going on, the main plot following Mbatha-Raw and her crew up in the space station, and the other detailing the fallout of their decisions on earth. Other than two lines of dialogue, the astronauts may as well be in a completely stand alone movie (like they were supposed to be), as they barely reference the “Cloverfield” of it all for the majority of the film.
The worse offender is the earth-based subplot. It follow’s Mbatha-Raw’s husband, in a series of clips that show him taking care of an abandoned girl. His conflict resolves almost as soon as it’s introduced, it never connects to the main plot, and it’s so clear that all of his scenes, along with the two up in the space station, were added after the film was completed and ready for release. It’s obvious that Paramount realized God Particle was no good, so they added scenes to shoehorn it into a more successful franchise to try and generate buzz. It’s a crude attempt to manufacture some connectivity, and it simultaneously makes the added subplot boring and unnecessary; and ruins what could have been a fun horror anthology series.
So the Cloverfield aspect of The Cloverfield Paradox doesn’t work, and unfortunately, neither does the Paradox. After the film’s inciting incident, the space stations crew is trapped inside a story full of reality bending physics where crew members are eliminated one by one. This could have been fun, as plenty of horror movies have explored the idea of what happens when we start messing with the laws of nature. However, it doesn’t quite work, as the science elements of this science thriller are never properly explained.
There are some really technically impressive kill scenes in this movie, as the film uses inventive ways to eliminate and antagonize various crew members. However, there isn’t a constant rule established, which left me feeling like anything could happen at any time. While that might sound like a good thing, as if Paradox created an air of terror, where everyone is constantly in danger, it robbed the kills of any satisfaction. Rather than watching our characters make mistakes and waiting for those to end in their demise, it felt like crew members were killed simply “because the plot said so.”
The internal logic of the film is never properly set up, so the plot just happens. Rather than a thrilling tale where things never seems to go right for out protagonists, it’s simply a series of vignettes that happen randomly and without reason. I spent most of the movie confused, trying to work out what was going on and why, and not being captivated and fearful for our space explorers.
The third act is also extremely problematic. Despite its non-cohesive narrative, some of the scenes early on can be quite fun if you ignore the logic. Which makes it so disappointing when the final set piece completely abandons the fun sci-fi premise, and turns into a clichéd final act you’ve seen in a dozen B movies this year already. A compelling, inventive final showdown with tripy physics could have saved this film. However, Paradox doesn’t set enough up that can be payed off later, so they have to resort to the bland “someone’s got a gun” ending.
Through conversation with a friend of mine, we realized that this film would work exceedingly better as an entry into the Final Destination franchise. It has all the basic tenants down, and with only a few altered lines of dialogue, it would fit right in. However, it comes across as a bland Horror Sci/Fi with some rather forced connective tissues to a broader universe. I’d say it’s not worth your money, but it’s got some really stellar character work and it’s already in your Netflix feed, so if you’re curiosity get’s the best of you feel free to check it out. Or just keep binging Parks and Rec.
Rating: 2 — Bad