10 years ago Paramount Pictures reinvented the wheel with Cloverfield, their top-secret sci-fi horror movie that took viral marketing to the next level. On the film’s tenth anniversary, Netflix pulled an unprecedented move by not only announcing the next sequel (and title) during the Super Bowl, but also releasing it immediately after.
Cloverfield was a modest-budgeted found-footage horror movie inspired by Godzilla that featured an enormous monster tearing up New York. Shrouded in secrecy, the viral marketing left fans wondering the origin of the “Cloverfield Monster”. Leaving the POV angle (and monster) behind, the sequel 10 Cloverfield Lane took the franchise in a very different direction. It became clear that the Cloverfield universe would be anthology style and that each sequel would lightly touch on its predecessors.
Enter the Julius Onah-directed The Cloverfield Paradox, which takes place in the near future where a group of international astronauts on a space station are working to solve a massive energy crisis on Earth. The problem is that nobody seems to know the side effects of their experiments, hence the paradox. After two years of failure, it finally works – only the Earth has gone missing. They discover they’re not in Kansas anymore and need to find a way back home.
The Cloverfield Paradox lands somewhere between Event Horizon and “Black Mirror”, looking like a failed hybrid of Alien and Star Trek. It’s got a lot of great ideas, but it’s clumsily assembled and doesn’t quite work. The film plays like it’s been toyed with for months, cobbled together in clumps that just try and move the plot along than push any sort of suspense. While there are a handful of unique gasp-worthy sequences (one that echoes the famous chest-burster scene in Alien), it never feels dangerous or like any of the characters are all that scared, and it’s reflected in the film’s extreme lack of tension. Even when the world is about to die, it never feels like anything is at stake, which says a lot about the believability of the space station. The awful score probably doesn’t help matters either…
All of that aside, the biggest crime the film commits is promising to fans that this is a Cloverfield sequel/prequel/whatever. While 10 Cloverfield Lane left us in the dark throughout the movie, The Cloverfield Paradox continually cuts back to Earth to show us that the monster is there, somewhere, doing something. The editing between Earth and space station is jarring, probably because everything happening on Earth is the only thing working for the film. Each time we see Earth, the film begs to stay there, but is unfortunately dragged back into space. It becomes clear in the final moments that the Cloverfield connection is a complete lie and that it’s been force-fed into this little sci-fi script penned by Oren Uziel (from a story he co-wrote with Doug Jung). The filmmakers do deliver one final punch, but by then it’s too little, too late.
With that said, The Cloverfield Paradox isn’t awful. In fact, it’s actually a little fun. It tries to be playful and scary, and while it fails at both, it at least feels like it comes from the right place. Still, it’s hard to not be disappointed by the lackluster surprise, which doesn’t deserve to boast the name “Cloverfield“.
Update: Corrected title to ‘10 Cloverfield Lane’.