Paradox: (noun) a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.
Cloverfield: (noun-ish) a kooky yet cool concoction from J.J. Abrams featuring a series of movies seemingly revolving around the same cataclysmic event. Kind of. But not really.
What started in 2008 as a simple yet effective found-footage horror movie has blossomed into a surprisingly successful feature film franchise. The original “Cloverfield” was followed by 2016’s “10 Cloverfield Lane”. Now two years later we get a third installment, “The Cloverfield Paradox” and a fourth is due out in October.
One of the fascinating things about these movies are how each (so far) are from different horror movie sub-genres. “Cloverfield” was a monster horror movie while the second film was a psychological thriller. “The Cloverfield Paradox” is a straight science fiction horror movie taking place mostly in space. All three are openly influenced by other films but are unique within their franchise. But defining the franchise as a whole, well that’s a bit tricky.
“The Cloverfield Paradox” takes place in 2028 which immediately separates it from the previous movies. The earth has been crippled by a global energy crisis and nations have joined together to launch the Cloverfield space station. The station is manned by a multinational crew of technicians and scientists who are preparing for an experiment which could lead to an infinite energy supply for the entire planet. But tin-foil hatters warn that the experiment could rip a hole in the space-time continuum allowing all sorts of bad things to happen.
On earth, communications officer Ava Hamilton (Guga Mbatha-Raw) reluctantly leaves behind her husband Michael (Roger Davies) to join the Cloverfield mission. The station’s crew consists of several good faces: Daniel Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, Zhang Ziyi, Chris O’Dowd, John Ortiz, and Aksel Hennie. Each come from different backgrounds and have their own perspectives about the mission and the chaos down on earth. Sometimes the planetside political tensions bleed over onto the station and the film smartly explores that dynamic. Perhaps not as much as it could have.
Needless to say the experiment doesn’t go exactly as planned and the crew begin noticing a series of creepy anomalies. At the same time officials on earth have lost contact with the Cloverfield and the situation on the ground has worsened. The film tries to juggle time on the space station with Michael’s time on earth, but it’s Michael’s side that feels a little underserved. For the crew it turns into a survival horror story as they try to undue what their experiment has done.
“Paradox” operates much differently than its predecessors. At the same time its story rhythms and some of the character treatments lean heavily on the movies that inspired it. You can’t help but notice it. There are times when the familiarity and predictability are a bit much. Also you can see potential in some of the story threads they begin but do little with. Still, I tend to have a soft spot for these types of genre pieces so the issues weren’t hard to get past especially considering all the movie does well. It stocks a good cast and the performances hit there marks. The production design and special effects are impressive and Bear McCreary’s score hearkens back to 90’s era adventures – big and persistent but fitting. Most importantly, “Paradox” sprinkles in some clever clues as to how it is connected to the overall “Cloverfield” franchise.
Director Julius Onah and writer Oren Uziel have been attached to the project since 2012 when it used the developmental title of “God Particle”. It was eventually confirmed to be the next Cloverfield film but faced numerous delays. The true stroke of advertising genius (and guts) came February 4, 2018, Super Bowl Sunday. A teaser trailer debuted proclaiming the movie would be available immediately following the big game. No press tour or pre-release trailer campaign. It marked a new attention-getting approach for the industry.
So where does “The Cloverfield Paradox” fit in? Let’s just say you could call it a prequel. That’s my take on it and I enjoyed how this film brought me to that conclusion. But many people have left it with a much different reaction and with their critical guns have been blazing. Sure, it’s a traditional sci-fi horror picture that doesn’t break new ground outside of its slick advertising trick. But is it really trying to break new ground? I would argue it’s trying to make a fun, intriguing “Cloverfield” installment. Speaking for myself, mission accomplished.