For a multitude of reasons, The Cloverfield Paradox is a major insight into the future of genre filmmaking. Firstly, its sudden surprise release (just 2 hours after the release of its first trailer) was a successfully bold marketing stunt that will undoubtedly be copied. Secondly, it marks out Netflix (with Mute and Annihilation also on the way) as the home for mid-budget, thoughtful sci-fi. And finally, with a black director and a WOC lead, it’s a clear step forward for its genre in terms of representation. Inevitably, the execution of the film itself doesn’t live up to the hullaballoo surrounding its existence, but this is still a fun sci-fi adventure, far better than the initial critical panning would suggest.
Like 10 Cloverfield Lane in 2016, Paradox loosely ties in with the world of the original Cloverfield, but mostly tells its own story. Earth is being ravaged by an energy crisis, so an international team of physicists and engineers are dispatched to a space station with a particle accelerator in an attempt to create an infinite energy source. There’s a lot of jargon-y exposition at the start to set this situation up, which weighs down the start of the film, but when things inevitably go horribly wrong, it livens up considerably.
After the team fire the accelerator, a power overload hurls them into a different dimension, and everything on the station goes haywire. With the exception of Gugu Mbatha-Raw as emotional centre Hamilton and Chris O’Dowd as comic relief Mundy, the crew don’t really get to evolve beyond ciphers, but their struggles and demises are effectively grisly. The heart of Paradox is its mysteries – this new dimension doesn’t behave quite like ours, so you can never be fully sure what’s around the next corner. Sentient dismembered arms, teleporting objects, and a strange woman fused to the station’s walls are just some of the issues, while the rift in spacetime caused by the experiment is wreaking havoc back on earth.
Paradox’s design and visuals are hardly original, sticking to the Alien-but-slightly-cleaner aesthetic that most space horrors do, but director Julius Onah and writers Oren Uziel and Doug Jung have a knack for creating unsettling images in unexpected places. They’ve assembled a great, though often rather wasted, cast, and Daniel Bruhl and David Oyelowo especially do elevate their generic material in the de facto leader roles. A predictable ‘twist’ late in the third act saps some interest, but also allows Mbatha-Raw to shine as Hamilton takes it upon herself to save the day.
Though it’s always preferable to see sci-fi on a big screen, and there are a few moments in The Cloverfield Paradox that would have hit a lot harder in a cinema, the revitilisation of mid-range genre cinema, available to a mass audience, is undeniably exciting. It might not hit the manic highs of either of its ‘predecessors’ in this loosely defined franchise but, with just about enough originality and verve, it’s still showing evidence of a cinematic future that is easy to feel very positive about.