In the near future, the Earth is undergoing an energy crisis unlike any it has ever seen before. As international tensions rise, a group of scientists have been working aboard an orbiting space station to perfect a new energy source using an experimental particle accelerator. When it seems that they have finally had a successful test of the technology disaster strikes and the Earth suddenly disappears from its place visible outside the station’s viewports.
Such is the setup of The Cloverfield Paradox, the third installment in the loosely connected science-fiction anthology. And, well, third time is not a charm in this case. Where the first two films are well-crafted and intelligent pieces of genre, this one falls prey to many of the cliches that can be found in this type of haunted house by way of Ten Little Indians structure. For a crew of scientists, they sure do a number of dumb things that serve only to advance the plot and the need to pick them off one by one.
That is not to say that there isn’t some interesting ideas in the film, it is just that they don’t get adequately explored and are often overshadowed by the script’s dumber decisions. An energy crisis that brings the world to the brink of war is certainly an intriguing backdrop for the film’s action, one that recalls the geopolitical background of 2010: The Year We Made Contact. But that doesn’t really serve as a ticking clock for the scientists. Also, the screenplay likes to pick up science sounding words and using them without the slightest idea as to their definition. When the word “paradox” comes up in the film early on courtesy of a possibly wacko environmentalist not one of the scientists on the station goes “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”
The Cloverfield Paradox moves along at a brisk pace, perhaps hoping we will gloss over its flaws. But sometimes it is moving too briskly, never giving us a chance to really get to know the scientists outside of a few broad characterization strokes before the mayhem breaks loose. And when things to do start to go wrong, the film never manages to build a rising sense of dread or suspense. There’s an almost matter-of-factness to everything that successfully keeps the audience from engaging with the film over time.
That’s not to say that the film is not without its effective moments as a horror film. Unfortunately, they are few and far between. If things happening to eyes give you the willies, than there is something somewhat early on that will send a shiver or two down your spine.
So does the film ultimately explain the causes behind the previous two films as advertised? In a way, they give enough for fans to make some connections and speculation. But given the execution here, we can see the answers coming before the film even gives all of its clues. And considering the strength of the franchise’s previous two entries, Cloverfield Paradox‘s shift from theatrical release to a streaming debut on Netflix feels does nothing more than recall the disappointing feeling of the days of browsing a Blockbuster Video and discovering that your favorite movie series had gone from sequels that you could see at the local cinema to direct-to-home video offerings.