Monday, 5 February 2018

BITE-SIZED REVIEW: The Cloverfield Paradox (dir. Julius Onah, 2018)

In the near future, Earth is running out of gas and countries are ready to go to war over the scant resource. In a last ditch effort to ward off a Mad Max-style scenario, the world's major powers band together to build a space station holding a particle accelerator that they hope will create a new source of energy. During one of the final test firings, something goes wrong.

Lost in space, the crew desperately try to figure out what happened and get home. But what they do not realise is that because of their experiments, something has entered the space station - something which has no intention of letting them escape...

Or something like that. I probably missed something important. But I don't care.

The third in the Cloverfield anthology series, The Cloverfield Paradox was shot two years ago, and like the characters, it has been sitting in limbo ever since. Reports were that the film needed more work, but with producer JJ Abrams busy working on Star Wars IX, Paramount decided to cut its losses and sold it to Netflix, who released it yesterday with no fanfare.

Upon viewing, I think they made the right decision. While the previous movies were rather small in scale, and boasted digestible high concepts, The Cloverfield Paradox's story feels distractedly overcomplicated.

Despite the movie's main action being set on the space station, we get numerous cutaways to an unnecessary subplot on another Earth in another dimension. That specific is important, because not only does nothing important happen in this storyline, but since it is in another dimension, it has no effect on the main story.

The other problem is that it is impossible to figure out the rules of the threat that the crew is facing. A vague reference is made to the particle accelerator ripping open space and time, allowing creatures and demons from other dimensions to enter our world. But that is all we get.

When the crew proceed to die, there is no sense of a pattern or real escalation. It just feels like a subpar Final Destination, with a crew member offed every 10-15 minutes. It just starts to feel like a slasher movie.

The movie's most terrifying aspect is that the crew have merged and replaced most of this other dimension's station and crew. One of the film's most unsettling images is their discovery of one of these 'other' crew members merged into the wall, screaming in agony.

Honestly, the film might have been more interesting if the premise had been boiled down to this - it is the most immediate aspect of the film, with a real antagonist with a genuine grievance. It is also the only element of the story that ties into the lead character's (skimpy) arc.

Enough bashing. The acting by the core cast is good: Gugu Mbatha-Raw is great in the lead role, and Chris O'Dowd mines some good laughs where he can. If this movie has a saving grace it is that, pound for pound, this is one of the best ensembles I have seen in a movie in a while. It is just a pity that most of them get almost nothing to do.

Overall, The Cloverfield Paradox is about as scary as being slapped with warm lettuce. It's not offensively bad, but it just never comes together as a legitimate horror film.

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