Directed by Julius Onah | Written by Oren Uziel and Doug Jung | 102 min | Netflix
The Cloverfield franchise is much more likely to be remembered for its unorthodox marketing than its contribution to the horror or sci-fi genres. The first one showed up as a so-so monster mocumentary that hid its money shots. The second one was a monster movie unrelated to the original that some genius studio wizard thought, hey, if we add Cloverfield to the title, more people might go and see it. They sure did, but then 10 Cloverfield Lane was also a lot better than the first. This third film dropped on Netflix on Superbowl Sunday with no warning, no advanced notice. Rumour has it the film was purchased for $50 mil from Paramount who weren’t confident about the picture’s ability to compete at the box office, and the the cast, when they were making it, didn’t even know it was a Cloverfield movie.
For the record, I think that’s really cool. Why shouldn’t the methods of selling a movie change in this new reality of massive internet film-streaming companies? And why shouldn’t the connective tissue of a film franchise be much more than a name? I’m down with that, in theory at least.
This one takes place mostly on a space station: An energy crisis on earth and a world on the verge of war, so the station is powering up some kind of particle cannon to solve all the problems… or, at least, that’s what I think is going on. Background detail is more than a little sketchy. What we do have for sure is a multilingual, multinational crew of terrific actors—Gugu MBatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, Chris O’Dowd, John Ortiz, Elizabeth Debicki, Ziyi Zhang, and Aksel Hennie—managing this bleeding edge science up in space, just in case. Meanwhile, in a thankless subplot Roger Davies plays MBatha-Raw’s hubby back on earth, dealing with stuff happening down there that seems to relate to the original film… somewhat.
Things don’t go as planned, naturally. There’s a dimensional shift, and that’s when things get a little weird.
On the surface this is just another substandard Alien descendent, with a bit of Sunshine, Solaris, The Martian, Life, and Gravity mixed in, stapled to a truly awful, draw-attention-to-itself score. The effects are decent, but rather than commit to its inter-dimensional premise with more than a few parlour tricks or maybe skate into some real Event Horizon-style horror, it prefers to be a disaster-movie-in-space, the dullest of the many genre roads it could have choosen. The most pronounced narrative thread to the other Cloverfield films is painfully shoehorned in with the most ridiculous final shot I’ve seen in yonks.
But in the plus column here is Mbatha-Raw, who single-handedly provides a heart to the thing with her character’s emotional arc. A scene she shares with Debicki, revealing the cost of her life decisions, brings real feeling to the space nonsense. Oyelowo is typically good, too, but we leave wishing we had more of him, and more of the rest of this talented cast, who are let down by an overall lack of imagination.