Some experiments will be successful while others are not; that is the very nature of experimentation. Produced by J J Abrams, the three loosely connected films in the Cloverfield sequence are all different beasts, each examining events which may be tied together from a different perspective and each crafted and marketed in a different style.
Developed in secrecy and launched via a viral campaign which revealed little more than the title, 2008’s Cloverfield was a found footage monster movie as the city of New York was devastated by a vast, powerful and near unstoppable creature, while 2016’s unexpected followup 10 Cloverfield Lane was a claustrophobic character drama set within a survival bunker during an attack on the wider continental United States.
The initial draft of that script, originally entitled The Cellar, had no connection to Cloverfield, and so it was with Oren Uziel’s God Particle script, now similarly reworked as The Cloverfield Paradox, long known to be in production but similarly veiled in secrecy until released via Netflix only hours after the first promotional material was made available.
It is the year 2028 and the Earth is in crisis, with fuel shortages, power cuts and heavy exposition as Doctor Ava Hamilton (Beauty and the Beast‘s Gugu Mbatha-Raw) debates leaving her family for what might be years to take up residence on the orbiting Cloverfield Station where Project Helios is attempting to develop the Shepard particle accelerator, potentially unlocking unlimited power which will save civilisation.
The crew tired and frustrated with dwindling resources to conduct their controversial experiments, on their forty seventh run they have what is apparently a breakthrough, but as the accelerator overloads they station is displaced far from Earth and the crew begin to experience strange phenomena, a feeling that something has changed, screaming noises from behind the bulkheads…
With each of the Cloverfield films placing itself in a different genre, The Cloverfield Paradox aims at science fiction horror even before the accelerator malfunction as an Earthbound pundit warns of the possibility the experiment might tear a hole into other dimensions and times, releasing monsters, demons and creatures from the sea, but penetrating body horror and women trapped in walls alone are insufficient to carry a story.
Coming in at the end of a two-year stint in space, short tempers exacerbated by the volatile situation on Earth, there is little chance to get to know the sparsely drawn characters; like Alien Covenant, that Doctor Hamilton has home videos of her family is expected to be sufficient to make the audience empathise with her, and the rest of the cast are given even less to work with.
Recalling the ill-fated rescue mission to the Event Horizon in style and content, where the crew of the Lewis and Clark were defined individuals under a strong command, despite a cast which includes Selma‘s David Oyelowo, Civil War‘s Daniel Brühl and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.‘s Elizabeth Debicki playing her customary ice maiden, the ensemble are given little to do but run around the corridors with an escalating sense of desperation.
The phenomena the crew encounter a series of disconnected events which make little sense individually and less as a whole – despite being perhaps the only truly disturbing moment, how does Vostok’s eye fit with a dimensional shift? – and unwilling to break with the uniformly serious presentation of the previous films director Julius Onah keeps the performances straight even when Chris O’Dowd’s character is put in a ridiculous situation which begs for levity.
Feeling like nothing so much as a SyFy Channel disaster movie of inept engineers blindly seeking a saviour technology rather than modifying the behaviour of their species, superior production values aside The Cloverfield Paradox is a dreary space action bungle which adds nothing to the existing Cloverfield narrative into which it has been inexplicably shoehorned; the real paradox is why?
The Cloverfield Paradox is available on Netflix now