J.J. Abrams’ The Cloverfield Paradox (Paramount Pictures/Bad Robot Productions; originally released in March 2016) is now streaming for the first time on Netflix.
TCP is part of the Cloverfield franchise that began in 2008. The first in the series was Cloverfield (dir. Matt Reeves), followed by Cloverfield Lane (dir. Dan Trachtenberg) in 2016. TCP is the third installment of the franchise, to be followed shortly by Overlord, which is slated to be released in October 2018.
The Cloverfield Paradox’s plot is actually just linear, for all intents and purposes. It attempts to be a dystopian tale at the very beginning, but the formal requirements of a dystopian tale fall off the moment the “big event” takes place. The film is set in a distant (or maybe not-so-distant) future where human civilization is about to collapse because of an energy crisis.
We’ve always had an energy crisis so this puts things into perspective. The main premise adds to the sci-fi urgency of the film and admittedly, that simple detail weighed heavily on my mind when I streamed TCP on Netflix. I mean – imagine if the world did somehow blink off because there wasn’t any more power. Horrifying, isn’t it?
While other critics pan the film for being a cliché “smelly people trapped in a ship” kind of film, I saw several redeeming factors in it. First was the acting. Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Hamilton), David Oyelowo (Kiel) and especially Zhang Ziyi (Tam) all performed beautifully in the movie. The scenes had this raw feel that I definitely appreciate as this third installment departs from the “found footage” trend that started in 2008.
Everyone’s so tense in the movie. Everybody had a short fuse – like at any moment, someone was going to cry, laugh or flat out lose it because of one of event or another.
But then again – let’s face it: if you’re up for years at the Cloverfield Station with the Shephard particle accelerator that’s supposed to save the world from an energy crisis, things can get pretty intense or just plain tense, at times.
People forget that part of the drawbacks of working in space stations is you’re pretty much in a fancy jail with other inmates. You’re going to be staring at the same shiny walls all day, and all night. And when you feel tired, you’re going to sleep and awaken in the same environment. That’s enough to drive anyone insane. And it’s not like you can just open a door and walk out for a smoke or two.
The idea that an alternate reality can exist because of a paradox – essentially something that cannot or must not occur because of existing natural laws – is what carried the movie, despite its thinness when it came to horror elements. It’s a winning thriller, but falls flat when it comes to horror.
What I noticed is that instead of depending on just one quaking monstrosity, much of the movie dealt with the terror of dealing with space itself – space that doesn’t ‘belong’ to the crew in the Cloverfield Station – like someone being found inside the walls of the ship, someone’s arm gets cut off cleanly without a trace of blood, etc.
These kinds of scenes just make the idea of space perfectly terrifying because the classic timing element associated with horror spins off the grid and you have absolutely no idea what’s coming next. These things I find enjoyable in science fiction flicks that also attempt to be tales of horror. Classy to the core, in my opinion.
Elizabeth Debicki’s performance as the alter-engineer of the Shephard (Jensen) gave me goosebumps. This character is the perfect example of a ‘woman out of time’ and whether it’s arguable or not that she existed prior to the Shephard just jeopardizing things, that’s not really the point. The point is this: she existed as a flesh and blood character and she had absolutely no idea where she is or ‘why’ she is that way.
Jensen’s been plucked from her own reality, with her own identity and stock of memories but with no one recognizing her.
Kiel, the captain of the space station, developed paranoia after realizing the reality that the entire crew was in wasn’t their own – and it’s also possible that he realized very early in the film that they won’t be coming home anymore to the Earth they all knew.
The Cloverfield Paradox is a topsy-turvy world that doesn’t go crazy with the SFX or anything remotely ‘hard-nosed science’ but it’s still an 8/10 in my book of sci-fi flicks precisely because it doesn’t go overboard.
I feel that if they had written in any more ‘hard science’ concepts into the plot, TCP would have become stale and confusing – with people constantly spouting scientific mumbo-jumbo that are only interesting for a very short while.
For now, I’m all for J.J. Abram’s take on the space mythos of the Cloverfield universe and the message is brutally clear: Murphy’s Law is alive and well and even space can eat you alive.