Cast: Daniel Brühl, Elizabeth Debicki, Aksel Hennie, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Chris O’Dowd. Director: Julius Onah.
J.J. Abrams knows how to market a movie; he creates a legend around it, a buzz. So when, two years ago, a trailer debuted for a movie set in a bunker with Hollywood good-guy John Goodman slamming his fist down onto a table, with John Gallagher Jr in a cast and Mary Elizabeth Winstead using those big round eyes to captivate, people were intrigued. And then the trailer ended… and it was 10 Cloverfield Lane, the long-awaited follow up to Cloverfield, and it was coming out in one month.
Eager to up the ante, The Cloverfield Paradox, formerly known as God Particle, pushed it’s release back by a year, before debuting a trailer during the prestigious Superbowl Half Time slot. This came with the announcement of its title, and it’s Netflix release date: two hours later. Following Matt Reeves second feature (now he’s off playing Apes and Batmen), and Dan Tratchenberg’s debut, Julius Onah becomes the first black director of a Cloverfield movie, and at its head is Gugu Mbatha-Raw, one of the world’s rising stars. But enough about the behind the scenes, let’s talk movie.
In a time when energy is in crisis and the world on the brink of all out war a small crew aboard a space station called The Shepherd attempt to use a large Hadron Collider to create a Higgs Boson, the God Particle, and save the world. When their numerous failures finally turn into a success, they find themselves thrown into an alternate world where things start to go horribly wrong, people appear, events have changed and a stowaway threatens to end everything.
Ignoring much of the Godzilla-meets-Blair Witch style of the Matt Reeves original, and the paranoid bunker movie of the second, Julius Onah instead takes this anthological series into a new realm, partially taking inspiration from Alien, 2001 and Another Earth – the film is the most sci-fi of the series. Already this franchise has done well in never truly explaining anything, never truly giving us reasons why these things happen, nor how these disparate narratives come together. How does a going away party interrupted by a giant monster playing football with Lady Liberty’s head tie into John Goodman going bananas in a bunker with a drum of acid, how do those two tie into a team of scientists having the roughest of days, or those into the fourth film which secretively takes place in WW2?
Well, for the most part Onah and his crew keep things on the downlow, there’s a sense of him being more interested in mood than in character, which is fine because he’s broadly speaking let off the hook by not casting seven white americans in his film. Some of the crew in the story get more to do than others. Overall Mbatha-Raw is the star of the show as Hamilton, a woman whose pain and layers are revealed slowly and who manages to convince us this two-dimensional woman is worth a little more than just cheap interest. Daniel Bruhl also does well as possibly sinister German scientist Schmidt, who may or may not be up to no good, and Chris O’Dowd gets all the laughs as a loveable engineer. Meanwhile, the rest of the cast are lumbered with bad dialogue and little character.
All of this is not to say that Onah isn’t a good director; the film is incredibly well directed, and the shots are painterly in the beginning and more claustrophobic later on. It’s impressive that scenes set in a tiny bunker appear large and full of space but scenes set in the vastness of space are claustrophobic. There is also a good use of the camera to give the impression of size, wonder and tension. It’s clear Onah is a film graduate because even his use of colour is beautiful, with the blues of the interior and near black framing for people on earth; he also manages to slip in some easter eggs and cameos without it being too obvious.
This entry into the Cloverfield series is also the one with the most obvious deaths; though enjoyable, there’s nothing either shocking or painful in them, a scene in which a character’s arm is cut off in a wall is oddly funny, and airlock freeze deaths call to mind the bland Life last year. Similarly, a man convulsing on a table blood and gooey things coming from him is a little too Alien to be enjoyed. In fact, the interest comes mainly from the B plot which sees Hamilton’s husband try to make it to the hospital and discover a lost girl along the way. Though underdeveloped it appears to be the better story as one good person does one good deed while something happens.
People may be wondering how this ties into the larger Cloverfield story, and indeed the theories will run rampant about how THAT final shot coincides with the new york mayhem or the spaceships of Cloverfield Lane. Even so, it’s intriguing that an anthology film series can continue to make films, each that touch upon uncovering a little more about each ongoing story of this one unexplained event. This film just doesn’t have the fear of the crab things causing Lizzy Caplan to explode or watching John Goodman gets his face melted. Perhaps it’s leading to an Avengers-style team up where whoever survives this film and Overlord – the next film in the Cloverfield series – will team up with David and Beth along with Michelle and all of them will punch the weird alien/monsters/demons/neither/alloftheabovemaybe things in their weird unexplained faces.
For now, another entry into the series shows that science fiction can be both thrilling, bloody, and ask questions that don’t normally get asked. Overlord you have much to live up to.