Review: The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)


J.J. Abrams’ mystery box method of storytelling, which withholds all context with the promise of exciting revelations, is all about surprise, but the third mystery box film in the Cloverfield franchise, The Cloverfield Paradox, is little more than a rehash of cliches from other space horror films. From the outside, the film looks like a space horror film, but when you open it up, you realize it’s...a space horror film. There are no surprises here and despite the handsome production design and admirable efforts from the talented cast, The Cloverfield Paradox has no meaningful reason to exist beyond providing tenuous connections to the two other films in the franchise.

While Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane both have tantalizing story hooks, The Cloverfield Paradox is a run-of-the-mill sci-fi thriller. An international crew of scientists (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, John Ortiz, Chris O’Dowd, Zhang Ziyi, Aksel Hennie) work on a space station that’s essentially a Large Hadron Collider meant to create unlimited energy for a near-future Earth that has run out of resources. Problem is, when they turn on the machine, they end up in an alternate dimension, or something like that. There is the seed of an interesting idea here, flirting with the possibilities of Quantum existences, but the film is more interested in using this idea to justify standard scares than it is in exploring its ramifications. It’s more Event Horizon than Interstellar.

Most of the film’s scenes consist of predictable moments of “weird” things happening and the characters getting worried by these happenings. One character gets his arm stuck in the wall and inexplicably has it phase out of reality, as if he were born without it. Another character realizes his dimensional counterpart is a traitor who doomed his compatriots. By the time the film gets to the climax, characters are stalking each other through the damaged corridors of the space station—which is admittedly a cool design—as if they didn’t get the memo that the conclusion of Sunshine didn’t work as well as the rest of the movie. 

I don’t mind standard genre films that provide earnest thrills, but the Cloverfield franchise is interesting because it’s surprising. It thrives off mystery and the promise of uncanny occurrences. The Cloverfield Paradox has no surprises and despite the slick design and David Oyelowo trying his damndest to provide the material with some heft, there’s nothing here that I haven’t seen before.

You have to wonder whether Netflix’s surprise release of the film after the Super Bowl was less a brilliant marketing move on their part and more a silent acknowledgement that they had a dud on their hands. If that’s the case, then the film’s unprecedented release strategy was the only way to make people watch this film before critics could ravage it.

As least the open-ended promise of the Cloverfield franchise suggests that the next film need not be so dull. But as it stands, this mystery box has run out of mystery.

4 out of 10

The Cloverfield Paradox (2018, USA)

Directed by Julius Onah; written by Oren Uziel, based on a story by Uziel and Doug Jung; starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, John Ortiz, Chris O’Dowd, Aksel Hennie, Zhang Ziyi, Elizabeth Debicki.