Super Bowl LII turned out to be an exciting, surprising affair. The Philadelphia Eagles pulled off the upset, the Han Solo teaser trailer finally debuted, and Netflix shocked sci-fi/horror nerds with the announcement that The Cloverfield Paradox (2018) would be available to stream immediately following the game. The Cloverfield Paradox, a secretive project, was originally intended for a theatrical release later in March and with the commercials promising some connection to the original Cloverfield (2007), anticipation was high. Released by J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions and directed by Matt Reeves, the original Cloverfield (2007) was a fun found-footage film that while not groundbreaking still entertained. The 2016 film, 10 Cloverfield Lane, proved to be one of the better horror films that year and created a world of possibilities for a potentially shared world of Cloverfield-related anthology films. With rumors of a third Cloverfield film, anticipation was high but does it deliver?
The Cloverfield Paradox is set in a near future where an energy crisis has led to escalating tensions among nations and the threat of war. Hoping to kickstart a source of renewable energy an international crew of researchers conduct a risky experiment with the Shepherd particle accelerator aboard the Cloverfield Space Station. While their tests initially appear to be successful an accident leaaves the ship drifting in space with Earth nowhere in sight. Increasingly strange occurrences on the space station lead the crew to believe that they may not only have been transported to an alternate dimension but that different dimensions in a multi-verse are now “bleeding” into one another.
Despite an interesting premise and good cast, The Cloverfield Paradox does not do enough to distinguish itself from other films, never fully shaking the feeling that you’ve seen this story done before and done much better. The film’s premise of a multiverse of different dimensions where slight variations in reality is enhanced by focusing on the choices made by characters and how these choices can radically change with slight differences in circumstances across dimensions. The performances in the film, particularly by Gugu Mbatha-Raw (as Ava Hamilton), really drive home these moral implications. Additionally, the ways in which the realities of two different dimensions overlap, and how director Julius Onah progressively reveals these paradoxes, adds an element of mystery.
Unfortunately, these strong points are ultimately let down by a film that feels generic. The Cloverfield Paradox fails to generate much in the way of atmosphere or tension, and there are no real scares of which to speak. The few instances where the film looks like it might creep out the audience only serve to remind you of better films. On more than one occasion I found myself reminded of Event Horizon and one scene draws an unfavourable comparison to Alien. There are also some jarring tonal shifts that really deflate the story and attempts at developing a sense of urgency. In particular, one crew member’s injury is played more for laughs than scares; the scene just doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the film. The set design, special effects, and score are fine but make The Cloverfield Paradox feels like those made-for-television movies in the 1980s or the straight-to-video releases from the 1990s; it doesn’t have cinematic feel to it.
Some of the best scenes take place back on Earth where the disappearance of the Cloverfield Space Station has triggered some sort of catastrophe. Hamilton’s husband, Michael (played by Roger Davies), navigates the ruins of the city while desperately trying to find out what happened to his wife on the space station. These brief scenes, interspersed throughout the film, come the closest to the suspense and urgency of Cloverfield (2007) and 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) and, at times, I found myself wishing Onah would spend more time back on Earth. The ending manages to deliver the desired connections to the original Cloverfield but the feeling of surprise is lost a little given that the commercials promised this connection while 10 Cloverfield Lane never explicitly made any promises outside its title.
The Cloverfield Paradox is not a bad film by any stretch; it’s a perfectly serviceable if not underwhelming film. High expectations will undoubtedly play a role in your evaluation of the film’s merits. Nevertheless The Cloverfield Paradox can’t escape the feeling that Neflix dumped the film after the Super Bowl in the hopes that the surprise release would attract viewers before word-of-mouth spread. Perhaps in another dimension there is another good Cloverfield film around the corner but in this reality you’re probably better off just streaming 10 Cloverfield Lane.