Directed by Julius Onah
Starring Daniel Brühl, Elizabeth Debicki
Netflix Film Review by Brian Degning
One of the most interesting things about the ‘Cloverfield’ franchise so far has been it’s exceptional marketing. From the original ‘Cloverfield’ to it's (not quite) sequel ‘10 Cloverfield Lane’ we were never sure what we were getting, but we were always excited. The first movie turned out to be a found footage monster movie, the second was a hostage story set against a (possible) alien invasion and now this third film, set in space, was to give us all the answers. How are these films linked? Where did the monsters come from? These questions, combined with a game changing super bowl announcement, kept up that excitement. This time, however, the payoff wasn’t quite equal to the buildup.
Set in 2028, in The Cloverfield Paradox we join the crew of astronauts aboard a space station whose mission is to use a particle accelerator to save the planets energy crisis. As you can imagine things don’t quite go as planned and we are given a survival thriller as the crew fight to make it back to earth and, possibly, their own dimension.
Like most films of this type, Alien, Event Horizon and Life spring to mind, the direction and performances are key. Here both are actually spot on, the film looks great and has a few original twists on the standard tropes, the standout being a severed arm scene, and the director cleverly maneuvers between tense, claustrophobic dialogue and the bigger, louder outer space scenes. The performances of the impressively diverse cast also deliver. Brühl and Debicki in particular stand out, with the latter stealing the spotlight in scenes involving her family on earth and the former teasing us with an engaging is he/ isn’t he a bad guy arc.
The film also has fun with the ‘other dimension’ concept, delivering some intriguing ideas. Can one choice change the entire direction of your life? How could one government action alter the destiny of the world? We also have several mysteries to unwrap throughout which, while helping keep the pace frantic, don’t often get sufficient answers. There are themes of second chances and bigger ideas of ‘one life versus many’ that are touched upon but never really fully examined in a satisfying way.
The problems begin when we are introduced to a subplot on earth featuring the husband of our main protagonist trying to get a young girl to safety. While these scenes on their own are fine they go absolutely nowhere and distract from the central plot. It feels like there should be some link to either the main story or the mythology of the franchise, but instead seems to exist only to connect, flimsy, the other films together. In fact if these scenes, along with a very on the nose exposition scene early on, were removed completely, the film would lose absolutely nothing. In many ways it looks like a standard ‘survive in space’ film that has been reworked at the last minute. Several scenes almost fell that they have been reshot to fit into a larger franchise. While it doesn’t completely spoil the film, it does detract from it and leave you with more questions than answers.
As mentioned earlier, the marketing for the other movies helped make them special. A mystery box we couldn’t wait to open. Here though, the idea that ‘all questions will be answered’ and the need to shoehorn this into an existing franchise really detract from an otherwise perfectly serviceable experience.