The Cloverfield film series has become something of a phenomenon; a calculated movie franchise that has come to pride itself on its own unpredictability and elusiveness. Exactly how carefully preconceived it was from the get-go is uncertain, and perhaps it has found its cult status by accident, but its impact is nevertheless undeniable and its anthology format makes it one of the more exciting projects around.
Following the unexpected success of the second instalment, 10 Cloverfield Lane, producer JJ Abrams and director Julius Onah (The Girl is in Trouble) have taken their new film to Netflix, where it was dropped without warning. Aside from a brief media release confirming that it would be set in space and a surprise Super Bowl trailer, there was no advertising campaign to build momentum. It was a flash release, which will no doubt help solidify the series as a unique and sustainable property.
Set at an unknown point in the near future, the film takes place as Earth is running out of energy sources. On the brink of extinction, a last-ditch effort for salvation sees an international crew of scientists sent to live on a space station to test a particle accelerator, which is too dangerous to test on Earth. The test has the potential to save mankind, although some fear that it will create a paradox whereby the fabric of space and time is torn, potentially releasing all manner of creatures and time contortions. Of course, being a Cloverfield film, the presumption is that we may have an origin story on our hands.
The beauty of this franchise is that it is episodic in nature, with each film self-contained. While they progress the overall narrative incrementally, they also stand alone without viewers needing to know the mythology. And so The Cloverfield Paradox deviates from the previous two films and presents an entirely new environment, while teasing the viewer with glimpses of familiar themes.
The Paramount/Bad Robot picture has a sterilised quality that not only sets it apart for the franchise, but also compliments the space-station setting. Its textures and tones also keep it in line with other Netflix Original. It’s an undeniably handsome film, even if, it must be said, it’s almost too clean at times.
It’s almost impossible to avoid cliché when it comes to space movies and The Cloverfield Paradox relies heavily on many. Alien is the obvious comparison, and many of that film’s tricks are exploited without apology. While the conventions are – at times – tiresome, the storyline and complexity of the script from writer Oren Uziel (Freaks of Nature, Shimmer Lake) presents a complicated and mind-altering journey, whereby reality is skewed and nothing is what it seems.
At 102 minutes the film does wain at times. Given the restraints that come with a one-location setting, the film could have benefited from a more disciplined edit. In fact, were it not for the saving grace of its cast, the stumbles that come with some of the more dragged-out elements could have been much more severe.
The players include Guga Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, Chris O’Dowd, Elizabeth Debicki and John Ortiz amongst others. They’re all good and while there aren’t any stand-out performances, they make for a reliable ensemble who don’t distract from the bewildering narrative we have to contend with.
The Cloverfield Paradox would have to be the weakest of the series, which is not to say that it’s bad. It’s actually the most outrageous, intrepid and challenging instalment so far. The lack of monster action will likely disappoint many, while the film’s exploration of complex scientific theories will thrill many more. It’s the type of film that demands repeat viewings, however, returning to it too soon is a wearisome proposition. Having said that, for what it’s worth, I will definitely revisit it in preparation for the upcoming fourth instalment – Overlord.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10