We live in an era of extremes for film distribution. The big studios are more risk averse than ever, virtually obliterating the mid-budget movie and pumping out directed-by-committee blockbusters. Netflix, meanwhile, are doing all sorts of weird and interesting things, including splurging on a science fiction thriller from a marquee franchise – only properly announcing it at the Super Bowl, hours before a surprise and unprecedented debut.
The streaming giant’s release strategy for The Cloverfield Paradox, which built hype as gracefully as a person yelling “fire” in a crowded auditorium, turns out to be more interesting than the film itself. Director Julius Onah and producer J.J. Abrams borrow from the likes of Ridley Scott and John Carpenter for their clunky, dim-witted B movie, which plays like a shonky episode of The Twilight Zone stretched out into oblivion.
Originally intended to be released theatrically by Paramount, the studio flogged The Cloverfield Paradox to Netflix, presumably having little faith in its potential. Not hard to see why. Several recent films have played along similar lines, fitting cautionary messages and contemporary political sensibilities onto spectacle-slathered storylines – including Alien: Covenant, Life and Geostorm. All of which are considerably better and more entertaining.
On a future earth ravaged by an energy crisis, where tensions are flaring and war is brewing, a team of scientists/astronaut types are fired off into space for a last ditch attempt to save humankind. The plan is to use a particle accelerator to access an unlimited source of energy. A news program broadcasts a bearded man waving around his book – called The Cloverfield Paradox – warning that if they are successful, a gateway might be opened allowing beasts and demons to enter our world.
The space team are an ethnically diverse bunch, though somebody forgot to call Shane Jacobson – who might have thrown in a “gore blimey” and “bugger me!” for some Aussie comic relief (as he does in the also shoddy Guardians of the Tomb). Instead the role of the funny-ish guy goes to Chris O’Dowd, who has been walking around aimlessly a lot recently, as a mopey gambler in Molly’s Game and a sombre, painted postman in Loving Vincent. The remaining cast includes Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl and Zhang Ziyi.
There’s lots of running up and down corridors and splashes of hackneyed body horror (a bung eye, exploding face etc.). Tin-eared dialogue provides lines such as “bad things are happening, but good people are going to make it better.” The film’s best asset is the cinematography of Dan Mindel, whose work includes the under-rated John Carter. Nobody wanted an intellectual workout from The Cloverfield Paradox, but this clunky, hollow, hammy mess is not even amusing accidentally.
Curious parties are better off watching (or rewatching) the franchise’s excellent previous installment, 10 Cloverfield Lane, a sly chamber piece featuring an utterly shit-eating performance from the great John Goodman. In another, parallel universe that film could have been directed by Ingmar Bergman. If you must continue the space theme, there’s also USS Callister – the clever, reality-bending, feature-length Star Trek spoof from the most recent series of Black Mirror.