Monday, February 5, 2018

The Cloverfield Paradox


First, let's get this out of the way: The Cloverfield Paradox is no 10 Cloverfield Lane. They're not even the in same league of films, but they still invite comparison because they are a part of a spiritual franchise of genre scifi films loosely connected by Easter eggs.

Calm down kids, it's not that bad.

But The Cloverfield Paradox is a Netflix film. It was surprised on us after the Super Bowl yesterday, when the last we heard of it, its February release date was getting pushed back. I guess the existence of a release date at all was a deception in order to juke us. Classic J.J. Abrams.

So it's a February release after all, but not a theater one. And that's a good thing; if I'd spent $10 and a few months anticipating this thing, it might've been a letdown. Instead it was a surprise freebee; a gift that I got to go into totally blind, with a short, energizing spurt of hype, that, I'll admit, helped me enjoy the movie more. In my case, the unorthodox marketing strategy worked. But from here on, I'll try to forget all that, and review this movie as a movie.

Written by Oren Uziel and Doug Jung, and directed by Julius Onah.

Earth is dying, and a team of scientists go into space to try and save it. A classic space-survival horror thriller ensues. is Hamilton, the leading lady, a woman who is encouraged by her husband to go and save the world, though she doesn't want to leave him as their marriage has hit a rough patch. She is clearly the main character, as none of the other characters get much more than basic background. They are , , , , , , and . The Cloverfield formula is used for Hamilton, as her past is darker than is first apparent, and she must deal with it in order to survive and save the day.

Everyone else was made to die. This is a horror film after all. All they needed to be was memorable enough to give us effective deaths and that they did. Except for Brühl who wound up surviving along with Hamilton. From the second I understood what formula the movie was going to use, I knew I wanted those two to survive, so was I invested enough to be happy about it, but he could have used a bit more development considering the outcome. played Hamilton's husband on Earth, who gets his own plot line, but it was useless and could've easily been excluded.

Good job you're not dead!

The movie's greatest commodity was the freaky weirdness surrounding all the one-by-one elimination of the crew. The film doesn't carry a whole lot of weight, but inside those moments, it was thrilling. Maybe I'm a horror/thriller lightweight, but I found those elements to be sublimely freaky, and thoroughly enjoyed them. The subtle build up to Volkov's was great; when he rubs his eye in the scene before and you think nothing of it. And the arm thing turned out being so strange and weirdly humorous. And when they find Jensen in the wall is seriously disturbing. All the moments had the usual suspense buildup, but unusually, the suspense build was of eager anticipation rather than one of dread.

Once the deaths stop being so weird the movie loses a bit of energy. We are asked instead to recommence caring about Hamilton as she's further developed and pushed to the edge. Her arc is well-done, and I appreciated how she had to face her demons in order to win. It was classic. It wasn't super subtle, but neither was the rest of the movie. Say "clichéd" if you like; I love this kind of genre film, and the tropes don't feel tired to me yet. Hamilton's arc is concise and complete and ties into the story -- but it didn't move me probably as much as it was meant to.

Also plot points and twist were all obvious. I didn't care, but it's still true.

Same goes for the plot overall. It doesn't get distracted, but plows through everything like a kind of evenly destructive breeze. Some things "don't make sense" but everything is explained. And all those scifi elements feel exactly how scifi elements should; inspiring awe and terror alike, and stimulating the creative side of the mind to ask questions, and think beyond the realm of reality. Still, I was moved more in a shallow moment-by-moment kind of way rather than an overarching one. That may dampen rewatchability in the future, but in the moment it was all as effective as it needed to be.

This is one of those movies where I loved the direction they took, and only wished for more. If they had just let loose, not held back, and gone deeper and darker and stranger -- as far as I can tell it could have only gotten better. I don't mind the clichés, and wish they'd have committed to them even more. The production is excellent -- judged as it should be, as a Netflix film and not a theatrical release -- with a thoughtful and cool design of the ship and special effects that get the job done without a single misstep. There are some excellent visual moments, but with a lack of exceptional cinematography, it makes sense why this was never meant to be a big-screen experience.

I think it was what it was meant to be. And if it wasn't, and the Netflix release was because they knew it wouldn't be received well, then that was a wise move.

But that's just it -- it wasn't ever meant to be a big-screen experience. And as far as exclusively small-screen experiences go, this one stands out. It's only exceptional in small moments, but I'm a fan of the space-survival scifi-horror genre, and that is what this movie was through and through. I don't care if it's a Cloverfield movie and there are "expectations" to go with that. I don't care about the mythos, the fan-theories, the erroneous idea that every installment needs to be comparable to or compatible with the last one: Isn't this franchise about breaking expectation? The first one was a found footage film, for crying out loud. Then the second was a suspense thriller with such immaculate character-crafting that the only criticism people could think of was that it shouldn't have been a Cloverfield film at all.

Now they're saying the same thing about this one, just because it was released in a smaller medium, and embraced genre clichés. It's still a totally cohesive film; put together to make sense in its senselessness, to have arcs and themes -- and to feel like a Cloverfield film, which it undeniably does. So no, it's no 10 Cloverfield Lane; but it's only in comparison with that film (which apart from the titles couldn't be more different films) that it can be imagined to be significantly lacking.

It's getting a surprising amount of hate. I say it's undue and unjustified, but have I mentioned I'm a fan of the genre?

The Cloverfield Paradox not a perfect film, but its main flaw is that it didn't reach the heights of which it seemed to be capable. How much of that potential is mere projection? Does this movie really need to be any better than it is? Here are four things I know for sure: One: It's a crazy, out-there scifi plot that drives without finesse to its conclusion with thrills, freak-out moments, and thoughtful character drama. Two: It's got a talented cast who put in effort, and elevate a classically clichéd script. Three: It's a got visual style at least five times greater than what is acceptable for TV movies. And four: I really, freaking enjoyed it.

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