Ten years after the first film, the Cloverfield franchise has become unrecognisable from the raw ‘found-footage’ concept that once defined it. Now with a different director (Julius Onah), almost double the budget and J. J. Abrams as the producer, you would think The Cloverfield Paradox was a prequel with serious potential to be something great.
The film ultimately reveals the explanation for the apocalyptic chaos that befalls the earth in the form of giant extra-terrestrial creatures, as the past two films ultimately depict the devastating consequences of the decisions made by the characters in The Cloverfield Paradox.
Onah’s third instalment follows the perspective of Ava Hamilton (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw), one part of the six-piece crew who have spent two years in space testing a particle accelerator. It is a risky experiment that they are adamant will eventually run a successful test, saving the earth from the current global energy crisis that is decreasing the population by the minute.
“A distasteful expectation of events and pity for the characters.”
In a very brief news interview with the typical stock character of the ‘mad scientist that no one takes seriously’, he prophetically announces to the world that this particle accelerator will tear through space and invite monsters and demons from another dimension into our world.
This, of course, is the big reveal. With the past films depicting these said monsters descending onto Earth, the audience immediately knows that the scientist’s theory is exactly what is about to happen, meaning that the origin of the mysterious creatures is overtly revealed in one sentence and only 20 minutes into the film.
Instead of this revelation creating a satisfying dramatic irony for the audience, it, in fact, cheapens the storyline by eradicating any chance of a subtle end reveal that would have created more of a journey of discovery, rather than a distasteful expectation of events and pity for the characters. We know that their experiment will not save the Earth, but cause more deaths than they could imagine.
“The gritty horror franchise almost turns into a dark comedy”
The second half of the film is where things get really out of control. The team on the spaceship celebrate as the experiment was successful on their 47th attempt. There’s just one problem; it’s actually blasted them into another dimension.
This leads to many strange incidents on the ship, beginning with one crew member noticing something crawling under his skin, a moment reminiscent of the Alien series but falling short of being anywhere near as iconic. The scene follows suit with the Ridley Scott classic by sealing the character’s fate with a gruesome eruption of alien worms shooting from his insides.
The gritty horror franchise almost turns into a dark comedy, as the events brought on by this new dimension are so extravagant and shocking that they even use Chris O’Dowd as a dumbfounded comic character to show that one can only laugh at the amount of ridiculousness that is taking place.
These frequent, shocking moments are carelessly thrown into the plot at any opportunity, appearing to serve the purpose of constantly rejuvenating the audience’s interest, yet they come across as amusing rather than captivatingly dramatic and tense.
The script is also very unnatural as it seems it is purely used as a vehicle to give an explanation to these outrageous scientific miracles, and with a lack of solid scientific terminology at that.
“The storyline involving Ava’s children is delicately handled… and culminates in a powerful end scene.”
The saving grace for the plot, however, is Ava Hamilton’s personal journey. Early on, we learn that Ava’s children were killed in a fire, and she is frequently seen watching videos of them from before they died. This finally allows the audience to feel an emotional attachment to one of the characters, as she is the only one that comes across as human and not just a two-dimensional plot-explainer with no backstory like the rest of the crew.
Without giving too much away, the storyline involving her children is delicately handled by Onah’s directing, and come into play in a very interesting plot twist, which culminates in a powerful end scene where she must make a decision about her life, one that is genuinely difficult to make and would leave the audience grappling with their own internal conflict concerning what they would do in this situation.
“An action-packed prequel with action that fails to hit home.”
Overall, Julius Onah directs an action-packed prequel, yet with action that fails to hit home. Instead, it is an artificial and commercialised, genre-confused mess, which entirely detracts from the mystery and simplicity that made the past two films so raw and innovative.
If the film is seen as separate from the franchise, then yes, it is entertaining in its unpredictability and interesting concept. However, as a fan of the franchise, one can’t help but see it as an overindulgent thrill ride that clashes with and taints the understated slow-moving plots that the later films so effectively employed.
Image and media courtesy of Bad Robot and Paramount Pictures