Synopsis – Orbiting a planet on the brink of war, scientists test a device to solve an energy crisis, and end up face-to-face with a dark alternate reality.
My Take – About 10 years ago, filmmaking genius J.J. Abrams in cooperated unique marketing techniques to build the hype around his found-footage monster film that he had produced called Cloverfield, some which severely paid off, as the Matt Reeves (War for the Planet of the Apes) directed film, upon release turned into an efficient critical & commercial success. While rumors of a proposed sequel had flowing around for years, the Dan Trachtenberg directed 2016 film, 10 Cloverfield Lane, a spiritual successor, surprised everyone with its title announcement, just shy of two months before its theatrical release, herby breathing life into the Cloverfield franchise as one of the most unpredictable and interesting series of science fiction films out there, mainly due non connectivity, hereby allowing new directors and writers to have a lot of latitude in exploring all kinds of genres and storytelling devices. This film, initially titled God Particle, also follows the same route regarding its connection to the ambiguous mythology of cinema’s most secretive franchise, but also it’s not quite like the other two films. Rather than being a found-footage monster movie or a quieter claustrophobic drama, this third installment is firmly planted in the realm of science fiction (with some strong nods to body horror), as it tries to give some sense of how the events of the 2008 film may have been triggered. Despite completing production a while ago, the film has been pushed from its scheduled release dates for almost two years now, until Paramount and Netflix pulled up a marketing coup by suddenly announcing the premiere of the third Cloverfield film on the streaming service right after the Super Bowl two nights ago, leaving everyone surprised & excited to see this long-delayed sequel, which upon viewing I realized was not very good.
Working as a derivative mishmash of previous sci-fi films that makes up its rules as it goes along while under the guise of trying to seem intelligent with its high concept plot. When it’s not trying to wow you with its inch deep exploration of theoretical science that is used as crutch to push the story along in favor of creating mildly thrilling instances of peril with disappointing pay offs, along with making awkward attempts to tie itself in with the established universe via a split storyline down on earth. While the film manages to keep you engaged throughout, considering the bigger scale and the brand it just feels like a well-crafted film that’s totally unoriginal & somehow disappointing. The story follows Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a scientist, who in the near future, joins a crew of an international space station on a mission to test a particle accelerator that might solve the energy crisis on Earth, as most of the natural resources are exhausted, herby threatening the world population with starvation. On board the space station, which is commanded by Kiel (David Oyelowo), she meets her fellow scientists and engineers from around the world who are all devoted to the same project: Schmidt (Daniel Brühl), Mundy (Chris O’Dowd), Tam (Ziyi Zhang), Acosta (John Ortiz), and Volkov (Aksel Hennie). Unfortunately for them, as the situation on Earth gets worse, their experimental machine called the Sheppard keeps failing, leading to an extension in the duration of their mission, however after making a few changes, the Sheppard does manage to do its intended job, however, the crew realizes that their ship has transported into the middle of nowhere in space. With the Earth nowhere in sight, the team must work together to keep the ship active before even considering looking for home, as everything around the space station starts getting really weird, really fast, along with the sudden appearance of Jensen (Elizabeth Debicki), who claiming to be part of the team and a close friend of Hamilton. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Hamilton’s husband Michael (Roger Davies) is trying to survive some unknown entity which is causing havoc on the wasteland of what used to be London. The previous two films were microcosms and smaller stories, but here humanity’s survival is wrapped up in a very public, high profile space mission. Instead of teasing us with mysteries, this one paints more of a picture of what this franchise is about and it does so carelessly. It’s genuinely rare and exciting to see a big-studio franchise play with expectation and delivery with such glee as Cloverfield, which is why the careless muddle of this film, though mindlessly entertaining, feels like a disconcerting step back. The problem with the film isn’t really its story, or even the fact that it’s derivative, though it bears a strong resemblance to a host of other science fiction films, including last year’s Life. What’s unfortunate is that the film was clearly reshot and re-edited within an inch of its life. The telltale sign is the feeling that a storyline has been severely modified after shooting it. And without giving too much away, such a sign is evident here, particularly in some early scenes and also in the storyline with Hamilton’s husband Michael, which feels poorly stapled together and strangely overemphasized, even though it lacks thematic harmony with the rest of the film.
Well, it does start off quite promising, and actually made me wonder why were all the reviews so critical, because I was quite invested in what it seemed to be, even though there were horror film clichés every now and then. The acting was great, the effects, setting and approach was nice, too, but as the film progressed it just went along the line of every science fiction horror film ever made, just like last year’s Life. Personally, I felt the film was quite well shot and directed pretty nicely, but after point it just became bloated with plot holes with ideas and concepts just thrown in and out of the film, without any explanation. Many concepts in the film hold promise, but the execution in the writing and direction fails them in every way. There are potentially intriguing ideas at play that would’ve provided the film with just enough food for thought to separate it from the rest of this sub-genre. Instead, they get as woefully undercooked as the characters, leaving the film with no option but to try to work as a space station survival story and pretend as if we haven’t seen it all before. The premise itself which establishes a back-story for the first film is fine, it didn’t really need explaining as both the previous films were less about answering or even asking questions and more about the experience and thrill of the situation, but the pure exposition, delivered by Donal Logue just feels so forced that it stands out like a sore thumb. I felt like they could have delivered this information a bit differently, by someone on the ship maybe. There are other moments of missed opportunities as well, specifically when you are dealing with time paradoxes and alternate realties. The film tries hard to deliver a sense of dread, but it doesn’t really get there. There are moments where the weirdness explodes and we are dealing with severed limbs still working or body horror involving eyes and skin. I get the sense that they wanted these weird occurrences to really amp of the mystery. Sometimes it works, like the seemingly sentient severed arm of Mundy, and how the character of Jenson is put through a particularly twisted body horror filled scene, other times it does not. While the elements of realities changing kind of justifies why strange events happen, they do very little to actually move the story along. After a while they just feel like the scenes are just put in there to add moments of shock without any sense of impending danger. The overarching plot, the way events play out, the way characters die, and the filming style completely keep to established and well-worn horror tropes. It was so easy to predict the order in which they would die, when, and how. There are clear references or parallels to other sci-fi space survival horror films, like Alien, which can either be seen as homage meant to set proper moods, or just be a poor imitation. We’re also expected to believe that a group of highly educated highly trained astronauts with multi-billion dollar space equipment were unable to figure out the fact that their ship was upside-down on the opposite side of the sun, and instead believed Earth to have disappeared until they found the convenient plot device (the ‘gyro’) that helped them notice Earth in two seconds. The film clearly had potential, from the way the news broadcasts at the beginning of the film foreshadowed potential interdimensional demons to the way the crew and station were now wrong in some way, there was as a gem in this concept somewhere, it just got lost in a muddled hodgepodge of a final film. However, I can’t deny the fact that the film kept me hooked throughout, mainly due to its great and diverse cast, who despite given little to do, but manage to stand out. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is good in the lead of the film even though her character may initially not be the lead of the crew, her character works well setting an emotional heart beat to the film. Chris O’Dowd is surprising hilarious, while Daniel Brühl, Aksel Hennie, Elizabeth Debicki, Ziyi Zhang, David Oyelowo, John Ortiz and Roger Davies are good too. On the whole, ‘The Cloverfield Paradox’ is a shallow yet engaging and generic sci-fi horror flick, which despite an interesting setup fall short of its hyped up expectations.
Directed – Julius Onah
Rated – R
Run Time – 102 minutes