10 years ago, the viral marketing campaign for a film called Cloverfield caused a stir worldwide, with no-one quite sure what the film was about or who was behind the campaign. By the time the film was released, cinemas were forced to post warnings that the film was causing the same motion sickness issues associated with riding a rollercoaster and cinema-goers were reporting being sick while seeing the film; as they say, there is no such thing as bad publicity, and I can remember scouring the internet for anecdotes and tidbits relating to the Cloverfield phenomenon, eagerly awaiting the film’s release like many around the world.
Flash-forward eight years to 2016, and I met the announcement that there was to be a Cloverfield sequel called 10 Cloverfield Lane with scepticism: having been disappointed with the end result of the original Cloverfield film after the prolonged hype, I couldn’t personally see the appeal or excitement following the follow-up. However, 10 Cloverfield Lane proved to be one of 2016’s biggest success stories – a tense, exciting, claustrophobic thriller that kept you guessing the outcome throughout the 104 minute run-time whilst providing nods to the Cloverfield legacy created by the original. So when the surprise announcement came last night during the Superbowl adverts that not only was a new Cloverfield sequel being advertised, but it would be appearing on Netflix worldwide within the next two hours I was very optimistic and intrigued at the prospect of the franchise expanding.
So imagine my disappointment after watching the film this afternoon. Make no mistake about it – the latest Cloverfield effort, titled The Cloverfield Paradox, is a complete mess, stuck somewhere between trying to be a Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster and a B movie at the same time.
The Cloverfield Paradox opens with the premise that the world is fast running out of energy resources and on the brink of war with the only hope seemingly the Cloverfield space station and it’s crew, who must attempt to engage the Shephard particle accelerator in order to provide the Earth with an unlimited supply of clean energy. An interesting enough idea, and I was initially drawn into the story. Almost as soon as the action switched from Earth to the space station, however, the film began to unravel. The intial interactions between the characters, particularly Daniel Brühl’s Schmidt and Aksel Hennie’s Volkov, feel so forced and unconvincing; Chris O’Dowd’s character Mundy (I just want to interject at this point to say that I usually love Chris O’Dowd) was so clearly shoehorned into the film as a comic relief that I genuinely cringed whenever he opened his mouth. O’Dowd was completely at odds with the tone that the rest of the film was trying to set, which jarred almost immediately. He also seemed to be on the space station with the specific role of using a metal glue gun to close up any openings, which he seemed to have to do alarmingly often.
Being a Cloverfield film, inevitably everything does not go to plan on the space station. Unfortunately, the film does not improve as a result. All of the set-pieces feel like a rip-off of better sci-fi films that have gone previously (Alien and Event: Horizon most notably) and the scares come courtesy of the usual music goes quiet, then there’s a loud bang variety. The film looked surprisingly cheap at times – the recent Black Mirror episode “USS Calister”, which was filmed almost entirely on a near replica of the USS Enterprise from Star Trek managed to look more authentic and believable than the Cloverfield space station. I feel like there’s a reason why this film has been released directly on Netflix rather than going to the cinemas, and it’s to do with Paramount’s realisation that this film would have failed at the box office.
An accurate description of me, watching this film
As the film hurtles towards it’s conclusion, characters arrive and disappear but I struggled to care – there was no emotional connection to any of the team aboard, with the crucial exception of Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s character Ava Hamilton.
Which brings me to the positives that I drew from this mish-mash of a film. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is not an actress who I recognised instantly, however after a brief scan of her IMDb profile I realised I have seen her in last years Beauty and the Beast as well as the acclaimed Black Mirror episode “San Junipero”. No matter – she carries the minimal emotional heft of the film on her solitary shoulders superbly well, making some difficult emotional decisions along the way. Her character arc was the only one given any screen-time, so it’s unfair to say that it was the only interesting story. Another positive aspect was that the film did improve slightly in the last half-hour, especially in the action and tension stakes which had been severely lacking up until that point.
The most disappointing thing about The Cloverfield Paradox for me was the way that it mishandled the cast that it assembled. I’ve already touched upon Mbatha-Raw’s superior performance and Chris O’Dowd’s bizarre appearance but the biggest crime of all was the gross misuse of the usually excellent Daniel Brühl (Inglourious Basterds, Rush) in a role in which he barely spoke or contributed. Worst of all, he looked in pain with every line of garbage dialogue that he regurgitated, as if it were making him physically sick.
Verdict – 2/5
A horrendous amalgamation of a poorly edited, shot and written sci-fi film and the Cloverfield moniker.