This review contains spoilers.
I just finished watching The Cloverfield Paradox, and here’s the thing: it’s not great. We all know the story of the film’s dramatic release, we were all surprised, etc.—let’s skip that preamble in favor of digging straight into the film at hand, which, as I mentioned, really isn’t great.
As I’ve said before, nothing quite does it for me like good space horror does. (See my overwhelmingly positive review of Life for details.) Unfortunately, The Cloverfield Paradox isn’t good space horror, or really good anything. And instead of being a poor, weirdly genreless (but in a bad way) space film, Paradox is a poor, weirdly genreless (but in a bad way) space film that’s lazily shoehorned into a horror franchise that it was never intended to belong to.
Now, I recognize how different 2008’s Cloverfield and 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane are from one another, but those differences are mostly stylistic. While the first is a straightforward, found-footage, alien invasion monster movie, the majority of the second takes place in an underground shelter. And even though the Cloverfield tie-in isn’t confirmed until the end, there’s nothing that happened before the reveal that would contradict the film taking place within the Cloverfield universe.
This is where the first two installments differ from Paradox. While one and two examine the disparate, subjective experiences of people affected by the same event, Paradox is supposed to be about the people who caused said event.
Right away, then, a logical person would assume that this film would address the event that its supposedly responsible for. Or, at the very least, that the events of Paradox are happening along the same timeline as the first two installments. But that’s the thing with retrofitting a film with an entirely different plot to fit into a franchise that it wasn’t written for—logic doesn’t apply.
Paradox is set 20 years after the first film, in 2028, and deals with an entirely different set of bullshit, like an arm that inexplicably detaches from its owner in a strange deployment of deus ex machina. The event fails to play as anything but silly, and for a film that insists on taking itself terribly seriously otherwise, silly is…well, not great.
Despite blatantly not belonging in the Cloverfield universe, Paradox’s concept had a lot of potential. The multiverse thing is interesting, the God Particle thing is interesting. Space is terrifying. But instead of meaningfully developing the concept, nothing really happens beyond poorly written dialogue that explains to the audience what happened when a machine we don’t care about didn’t work. Oh, and it’s vehemently unscary at every single turn.
Sure, there were a couple of roughly three-minute sequences here and there that I appreciated—but only for exactly those three minutes, before recognizing all of the wasted potential.
A prime example is when Volkov, the Russian crew member, realizes that he’s filled with worms as he stares into the mirror while his eye does some seriously fucked up shit. It’s a horribly delightful sequence to watch. Eyeball rolling around out of control, worm wiggling under his forehead skin, Volkov leaning toward the mirror and speaking to a voice the audience can’t hear—it’s the stuff of good invasive-space-creature body horror.
Except that it isn’t, ultimately.
Volkov leaves the bathroom, looking like a character who we assume is being controlled by some alien species living in his eyeballs. He 3D prints himself a weapon, threatens a few crewmembers with it for a dumb reason, and then…he explodes. A sea of regular old earthworms burst from his innards, landing at the crew’s feet, and that’s it. He’s dead. There’s no monster. Sick.
The film also fails in making me care even the slightest bit about any of the characters. The main character, Hamilton, is really the only one given more than a name and job title, and still, her weak backstory only functions to stir some dead-end emotional drama into the mix later on.
Somewhere around the early middle, Paradox rapidly devolves from potentially promising to predictable madness, set to an overzealous and distracting soundtrack more befitting of a Harry Potter movie than a horror movie. At that point, you might as well turn it off and sit quietly instead.