Evan Minniti staff writer
In 2008, JJ Abrams produced the monster flick “Cloverfield”, a critical and box office success. Eight years later a loosely-connected spiritual sequel, the psychological horror film “10 Cloverfield Lane”, was even more successful. These original movies worked for a number of reasons, especially the lack of complete explanations for why monsters existed. By the end of the movie, the audience does not know why the monsters attacked New York City or where they came from. And it doesn’t seem like anyone was asking for those answers either.
Announced early in 2016, a surprise trailer for “The Cloverfield Paradox” appeared during the Super Bowl, and it streamed on Netflix just after the game ended. It has an intriguing central premise that didn’t seem to make it a direct sequel to “Cloverfield”. A team of astronauts on a space station orbiting Earth perform an experiment that makes the planet disappear. If this was a good movie, this would result in a tense fight for survival and answers in the harsh vacuum of space. Unfortunately, this central premise is completely bungled.
There is just so much wrong with this movie, it only seems fair to highlight the good things about “Paradox” first. The cast, including rising stars like Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Elizabeth Debicki and David Oyelowo, are amazing and they work so hard to make the clunky dialogue work. Raw plays the protagonist, Ava, a young mother still grieving the accidental deaths of her children and attempting to keep a flame with her husband in a failing marriage. Roger Davies, who plays Ava’s husband, is stuck on Earth taking care of a child in the aftermath of the crew’s experiment which unleashes the original movie monsters from an alternate dimension. Both Raw and Davies give very convincing and sympathetic performances.
That is about as fair as the praises go. This movie is frankly a trainwreck in every other regard. It has one of the worst scripts ever written for a Netflix original. So much awful exposition is written into the already bad dialogue in a futile effort to “heighten” the stakes. The characters are constantly making stupid decisions that no scientist would ever dream of making. Debicki’s character is unexplainably sociopathic and does things that seem to actually contradict her supposed motivation. Whatever emotional investment some audience members have will instantly evaporate in the numerous extremely silly moments that lack any explanation, such as the “missing arm” scene.
The set design and special effects are really laughable. The set design of the spaceship, like many other post-”Alien” sci fi movies with spaceships, is supposed to look both homely and futuristic, with a vague cyberpunk aesthetic to it. However, it looks really cheap and unfinished, with a lot of obvious green-screen. The final shot, which is a completely unnecessary jump scare, is so awful-looking it is actually funny.
In short, “The Cloverfield Paradox” is an awful entry in an otherwise promising franchise. JJ Abrams, should he continue making these movies, should stick to the psychological horror that made the first two entries work.