In Defense of The Cloverfield Paradox (and Others)

I spent the Super Bowl watching episodes of Inside No. 9 and Psychoville (and if you’ve not yet heard about these dark, twisted, brilliant Britcoms, then I urge you to forget about this stupid little review and get thee to a torrent site (sadly, the only place Americans can watch that I’ve found other than buying the DVDs from Amazon)). Then Tery came into the bedroom and said casually, “Hey, have you heard there’s a new Cloverfield movie?” I had not, and not surprising; the Super Bowl was the ad’s big debut.

But then I switched to Netflix to watch something less dark, twisted and brilliant, and was gobsmacked to see, front and center, a banner for The Cloverfield Paradox, a Netflix original. “Hey, it’s going to be on Netflix!” I shouted excitedly. Then I looked closer still and noticed a “play” button. “Hey…ummm…I think I can watch it right now?”

(I could indeed, and I was kicking myself for not watching it during the game until I read that it in fact dropped unexpectedly as soon as the game was over. Another chapter in “stealth marketing” that the franchise pioneered.)

I did watch it on the spot, and I liked it very much…even if it wasn’t as monster-centric as I’d hoped (and in fact is all fans of the movie have wanted since the first one but JJ seems hellbent on denying us (and I fear this may be the last straw for many of them).

My review isn’t going to be very comprehensive because, truthfully, the movie wasn’t terribly deep, I only remember the basic plot really, and I’m more interested in the massive backlash it’s received.

SPOILER ALERT (this paragraph only): This movie explains, with very vague science, how mankind is on the verge of exhausting all power supplies and decide to send a space station up to somehow activate a particle accelerator which will provide infinite energy (it’s too dangerous to test on earth). Surprise, they manage to tear a hole in the space/time continuum and an alternate universe (containing big beasties) overlaps with ours. The crew wants to fix it, obvs, but they can’t because they somehow got shot so far away they can’t see Earth anymore from their ship. And, because this is a predictable outer space film, everything that can go wrong does, resulting in several crew deaths (some quite inventive) and considerable damage to the station. The movie is about trying to fix all these problems, and barely at all about rampaging monsters.

END SPOILERS!!

Monster movie?

At the end I felt I had been entertained and not terribly cheated out of my expectations (although less so than after 10 Cloverfield Lane, which was even less so about monsters but was a really well-written, surprisingly taut little thriller). Then I made the mistake of reading some reviews.

People weren’t picking on the lack of monsters as much as the lack of originality. They compared it to Alien (a bit of a stretch), Sunshine (better), and Event Horizon (okay, there’s a rift in the continuum and weird hallucinations. But are you saying this movie patented these ideas and they can never be used again?). They bitched that none of the crew were fully developed characters–I challenge them to go back to the original Alien to refresh their memory on how that movie was guilty of the same (hell, Ripley needed at least two films to get a back story). They complained that Chris O’Dowd wasn’t as funny as he should’ve been –well, this isn’t Bridesmaids 3, people. And on and on.

Essentially, the movie sucked because it was like all these other movies while not being as good as them at the same time. Did I get that right?

There’s nothing entirely new and unique under the sun, and frankly critics who can’t get past this fact are becoming tiresome themselves.

(I will offer this one criticism of my own: when the first Cloverfield came out, I remember JJ Abrams said it was supposed to be America’s Godzilla. And I was on board with that idea. But imagine if the first Godzilla destroyed Tokyo, and then the subsequent many, many sequels were about the home life of workers at the nuclear plant, or political intrigue about local government (with Godzilla way off in the distance), or North Korea hearing about Japan’s monster trouble and their reaction (with Godzilla attacks glimpsed only in news footage). Not what we came to see. MORE MONSTERS. That’s the problem with these Cloverfield “sequels.”)

Also, original doesn’t automatically equal better. I finally got the chance to see the original 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre (I’ve been shamefully remiss as a horror fan until now), a movie I’ve no doubt was terrifying and stomach-churning 44 years ago. Now in 2018, I’m sorry, it was slow, plodding, and downright annoying in the last twenty minutes, which is a lot of a girl screaming, crying and running, and not much else.

Lastly, a movie can still have elements of other movies and still be pretty decent.

Case in point: The Ritual, also a Netflix original.

(Not too spoilery, I promise.). Four adventure-seeking friends take a hike in Sweden in honor of another friend who died tragically (kind of like The Descent). Things go wrong (every single horror movie ever made), they get lost, and creepy shit starts happening (like Blair Witch (the original), only creepier. WAY creepier). They get chased by an unseen creature (don’t worry, you see it eventually, and it’s satisfyingly W.T.F.) and get picked off one by one extremely gruesomely. And the ending is very similar to another movie, but if I say which, you will probably easily guess it.

So maybe the critics hate this one too but I don’t care. I really enjoyed it (in fact, kept thinking it was everything The Forest with Natalie Dormer should have been if it hadn’t kept dropping the ball), and maybe I can keep it that way if I stop reading what smug people who watch way too many films and get bored far too easily think about it.

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