Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX
Netflix sprung a huge surprise on us this evening. Without any fanfare and marketing, and a lot of sealed lips in this town, the platform dropped director Julius Onah’s THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX (which previously went by THE GOD PARTICLE) in our laps. The irony in all this is that despite the mystery-sci-fi-thriller subverting traditional methods of delivery to its intended audience, at the same time, it gifts us with a film that’s sadly stillborn. While this doesn’t breathe new life into the genre, or even the series itself, the blueprint was certainly there to have constructed a much better model.
Blackouts are a frequent occurrence. A gas shortage is sweeping the nation. War is spreading. But there’s hope! Ava Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who’s incandescent in the role) has been offered a job to help save the planet from sure-fire extinction. She and a crew of six others – Schmidt (Daniel Brühl), Mundy (Chris O’Dowd), Tam (Ziyi Zhang), Monk/ Acosta (John Ortiz), Volkov (Aksel Hennie) and Commander Kiel (David Oyelowo) – have been tasked with a mission to get a new energy resource up and running. The Shepard particle accelerator, if it works, could produce unlimited energy. The only downside? A portal to another dimension could open and chaos would ensue. No worries. As the days tick by, and the failures wrack up, the crew becomes increasingly at odds with one another. That is until a breakthrough occurs – one that throws them into greater turmoil and has a mysterious passenger, Jensen (Elizabeth Debicki), messing with their minds.
Had Oren Uziel’s screenplay (working off a story also by STAR TREK BEYOND’s co-writer Doug Jung) managed to stay in its lane, it would have been a more successful picture. Every time it attempts to hook into the lore of the CLOVERFIELD universe, it robs the primary story of its narrative momentum. Not making Michael (Roger Davies) be saddled with the trope-riddled trappings of the “significant other waiting by the phone” role is admirable. That said, problems arise from this as the tangential connective tissue to the franchise’s universe. Ava’s home video aboard the space station, one she pines and pours over, leads to an elongated reveal that works wonderfully for her portion of the story, but tips its hat to clues during her husband’s “meanwhile on Earth” segments that occur prior to the reveal. Plus, his character’s climax builds to a whimper, making the entire arc superfluous.
There’s no alien creature the ensemble is forced to battle against, but it’s clear the crew’s relationship dynamics pulls from those in THE THING. However, the script never comes close to instilling that same level of pathos, paranoia and pressing urgency of Carpenter’s film. It barely gives us anything resembling the atmospheric dread of other space horror movies like ALIEN, EVENT HORIZON, LIFE or SUNSHINE. Though that can be a blessing it’s not reductive in that sense, it feels like that’s born out of a sheer lack of creative innovation rather than a well-earned, well-intentioned quest to be unique.
The script doesn’t give anyone beyond heroine Ava more than one dimension. These characters aren’t even defined by their jobs. They are only allowed to play one color, shaped solely by one trait – the shifty one, the funny one, the brave one, the jerk, the weirdo, and the leader. In that regard, it’s like a knock-off of Agatha Christie. So when it’s time for the inevitable, semi-decent kills, the audience will have a hard time summoning an emotional response like the one Bear McCreary’s swelling score wants you to have.
In addition to Mbatha-Raw’s performance, the diverse cast, and the pretty neat visual effects by Russell Earl and Jason Snell’s team, highlights include hallmarks of Bad Robot productions. Fans might take a little glee in spotting Easter eggs like where they fit in the Kelvin shout out. The accelerator is, of course, seemingly takes its name from LOST’s “Jack Shepard.” There’s even a spiritual cousin to the “Not Penny’s boat” tonal beat here too – one that’s born out of an unavoidable situation versus, on LOST, where it was completely avoidable. But that’s really it when it comes to the creators having a modicum of fun with the property.
One thing is certain: those in charge of this franchise need a new strategy when it comes to the future of this cinematic universe. I would hope a change could come at the development level, maybe leading to an executive thinking twice about acquiring already existing script on the cheap, only to have to refurbish it into being “a CLOVEFIELD film.” As is, it’s botched plastic surgery.
THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX is now streaming on Netflix.