Movie Review – The Paradox of ‘The Cloverfield Paradox’
So, here I was sitting on my couch, checking my Twitter feed when I saw the headlines that not only had the Cloverfield Paradox trailer released but the movie would drop on Netflix after the Super Bowl. Color me Cloverfield. I was elated. Naturally, my wife and I quickly switched it on, eager to see the new installment.
I’ve been a fan of Cloverfield since the first movie. I remember not too many people enjoying it because of the shaky cam. That didn’t bother me. The comedy, characters, mystery, and suspense pulled me in from the beginning and set that movie apart from the usual trashy monster movie.
10 Cloverfield Lane was a big surprise. After so many years, I figured they had put Cloverfield to bed. The beauty of that movie was the great marketing paired with the film coming out in February with little to no competition. It, of course, also had a great concept and cast, putting John Goodman in one of his best roles.
The Cloverfield Paradox is set in the near future. Earth’s energy sources are depleting, causing rifts between countries and creating a hostile environment where Russia and Germany are mobilizing their troops. With war on the brink, a group of scientists orbiting Earth test out a hadron collider in hopes of creating long-lasting and sustainable energy. But, a problem in one of their tests rips apart space-time and puts them in a dark reality.
In a time when dark science fiction shows like Black Mirror and Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams are finding popular fanfare, the Cloverfield series perfectly fits the zeitgeist. What better time to capitalize on speculative fiction? Still, I was a little skeptical of the story to be perfectly honest. It’s like the writers ripped the story straight out of the headlines. And that’s fine but before I watched it there was an early stench of cheese in the air. Thankfully, by the end, my mind was set at ease.
The Cloverfield Paradox benefits from a strong ensemble cast, a great lead in Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and a solid screenplay. J.J. Abrams’ Mystery Box is alive and well, and the pacing keeps you on your toes at all times. It’s also, fortunately, not a heartless shell. Hamilton’s (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) emotional backstory regarding her children and the motivation to save her husband sets the stakes high both for humanity and the main character. It’s all very tense and visceral. But, heck, they throw in a few jokes for good measure.
And yet, for all its many virtues, putting The Cloverfield Paradox on Netflix rather than releasing it in theater makes a lot of sense. It’s not that the production is poor. It has some of the best effects, cinematography, and set designs around. No, it’s the tone. Large in part, the movie is a horror but it’s hard to see that coming. The really terrifying stuff just happens. And when it does, it’s quite surprising and almost off-putting. I could easily see how a theatrical audience would be quickly turned off by it especially if marketing didn’t paint it in that light.
Unlike 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Cloverfield Paradox has purpose. Its mission is to open J.J. Abrams’ mystery box and explain why both Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane happened at all. What I love about this is that you’d think the movie would be set in the past. But it’s not. It’s set in the future. Narratively speaking, that’s the first paradox. Is it a prequel? A sequel? Does it matter? As the movie progresses, the paradoxes increase, making your head feel like mush.
The other great thing here is its subtext. When the first Cloverfield came out, a big gripe among fans was how the movie didn’t explain anything. Fans want answers and J.J. Abrams’ didn’t want to give answers. The Cloverfield Paradox perfectly explains why its problematic for a storyteller to explain too much. It just opens up a can of worms (Worms literally play a small but important part of the movie) that won’t feel satisfying. This movie has that allure to it. I was excited to finally get answers before watching it. Yet, the more the movie went on, the more I realized I didn’t want answers at all.
That’s the paradox of The Cloverfield Paradox. It questions the drive and desire we all have for answers. Does it really matter to have our questions answered? More importantly, will they be satisfying? For me, the movie answers my questions, at least for the most part, but I’m not sure how satisfied I feel about it.
As a side note, I found it interesting that there are several Lost homages in this movie, including Charlie’s death, electromagnetism, and the fact that the hadron collider is called Shepherd.
Getting to the nitty-gritty, let’s talk tone. For the first third of the movie, the tone feels like your average space science fiction like Interstellar or Gravity. Scientists are at computer panels trying to solve problems in a space station. But, the tone shifts very quickly and nothing tips you off.
Once the inciting incident takes place, it suddenly becomes a gruesome horror movie. And I mean horror. I was not expecting what was about to happen next. The scale of the terrifying moment felt like a scene that would need to be built up and happen further in the movie but instead, it just hits you like a hammer. Once it’s over, you expect more of the same grade of horror and there’s certainly more horrific things to come but they all feel particularly tame in comparison.
To be clear, it’s not that the horrifying scene didn’t make sense in the context of the story. It made total sense. It’s how they filmed the scene that changed the tone drastically. To some, this sudden and surprising shift could be exciting because it’s unexpected. I was certainly taken off guard at the very least. But, for many others, it could totally kill the momentum of the story and maybe turn them off entirely.
Overall, The Cloverfield Paradox provides a fun ride, full of good characters, horror, light comedy, and answers some of Cloverfield’s biggest questions. But, the tone of the movie might be off-putting to you if you aren’t expecting horror and those questions you’ve been dying to have answered might not be too satisfying.
Photos courtesy of: Paramount Pictures