The Cloverfield Paradox


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Cloverfield Paradox
"The action scenes in general are well put together, and good use is made of the potential for things to go wrong in space without resorting to too many familiar devices."

Few films have ever been marketed with the skill of the Cloverfield franchise. From the viral trailer for the first film, which plunged cinemagoers into the action with no idea what was happening, to the Easter egg-filled campaign for the second, which incorporated a worldwide treasure hunt, producer JJ Abrams proved himself the surpassing master of the event film, so it should perhaps come as no surprise that, having already arranged a cinema release date some weeks ahead for the third instalment in the franchise, he chose to drop it on Netflix with no warning and announce it at the Superbowl.

Marketing like this requires a certain skill with synthesis, an appreciation that the world is made of many moving parts which, when brought into alignment, can be exploited to advantageous effect. This is an approach mirrored in the arrangement of the films themselves. First we witnessed what seemed to be an alien invasion, all giant monsters and chaos and the destruction of New York. Secondly, we observed the fate of a trio of people huddled together in an underground bunker with an uncertain threat outside. Now we find ourselves glimpsing something of the start of it all. A global energy crisis. An experimental particle accelerator so powerful that it can only be fired up in space. The Cloverfield space station - on which things go very, very wrong.

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In keeping with this structural theme, we find ourselves caught in a tale of competing realities (tellingly, we are given scant clues as to which, if either of them, is ours). As in the first film, however, the experience is chaotic and we are obliged to work a lot of things out for ourselves as we go along. Some of this is very well handled, so that if you have a decent basic knowledge of astronomy or chemistry you will be able to figure things out before all of the station's crew do. Some of it is weaker, and in places the film does become clogged up with excessive exposition, suffering the same fate as Ridley Scott's Prometheus (though with more coherent science). There are also occasional jokes in a film that acknowledges its own absurdity, such as when the communications system briefly breaks down and we stop getting subtitles for lines delivered in Chinese. (The very fact that a Chinese character exclaims in Chinese when under stress shows how much more thought has gone into this than into the average genre blockbuster.)

It's an ensemble film notably dominated by female characters. Gugu Mbatha-Raw's Hamilton is the closest we get to a central protagonist - we learn a little about her past and, in scenes which smartly mirror parts of Aliens, are invited to consider the struggle for survival between species, or ecosystems, at its most basic level as one protective female fighting another. There is a physical fight involved in this which is very well choreographed and full of inventive little tricks that take advantage of the setting. The action scenes in general are well put together, and good use is made of the potential for things to go wrong in space without resorting to too many familiar devices.

In between the scenes in space, we flash back to Earth, where Hamilton's husband is making his way in a struggling society whose circumstances are about to get much worse. These scenes are drip-fed. Obviously we want to know more, but to get it, we'll have to wait for the next instalment. Cloverfield is all about anticipation. There's an echo of events in the second film, though, that is deeply disturbing for reasons that are nothing to do with otherworldly monsters.

That the Cloverfield events affect time as well as space is something only briefly touched on, but it's an idea that massively increases the potential of the series, and it seems in keeping with a frankly Lovecraftian final shot. In places the film sails a little too close to the cannibalistic pseudo-science of Event Horizon or Pandorum, but it has an underlying intelligence that keeps dragging it back on track. There are playful references to the challenges our protagonists face in the original, such as the climb between two unbalanced structures, and there's good work from Mbatha-Raw and Elizabeth Debicki (as an unexpected stranger) to anchor it all. It might not be everything fans hoped for, but it's a spirited piece of filmmaking and a suitably thrilling watch.

Reviewed on: 05 Feb 2018
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The Cloverfield Paradox packshot
Orbiting a planet on the brink of war, scientists test a device to solve an energy crisis, and end up face-to-face with a dark alternate reality.

Director: Julius Onah

Writer: Oren Uziel, Doug Jung

Starring: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, John Ortiz, Chris O'Dowd, Aksel Hennie, Ziyi Zhang, Elizabeth Debicki

Year: 2018

Runtime: 102 minutes

Country: US


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