There’s plenty to praise about the film, which has a wonderful international cast of actors, very high-end production values with lots of creepy and gory special effects, and some genuinely well-staged set pieces. But that’s all in service of a script that is heinously undercooked to the point of total confusion. Onah, a Nigerian American filmmaker who made a promising debut with The Girl Is in Trouble in 2015, does what he can to paper over the story inconsistencies by ratcheting up the suspense. But the end result still feels more befuddling than terrifying.
The Cloverfield Paradox is set on a space station orbiting Earth sometime in the near future, on which a team of scientists from around the world are trying to solve the planet’s energy crisis before humans descend into apocalyptic warfare. The ensemble includes a Brit, Ava (Gugu Mbatha-Raw); an American, Kiel (David Oyelowo); an Irishman, Mundy (Chris O’Dowd); the Chinese engineer Tam (Zhang Ziyi); and the tense German physicist Schmidt (Daniel Brühl), each giving solid, workmanlike performances as they tersely try to save the world. Their solution to renewable energy revolves around running a gigantic particle accelerator, and after years of failed tests, their experiment finally seems to work … except that in the aftermath, Earth vanishes from their viewscreens.
I could spoil the rest of the film, but that would do little more than confuse things further, since there’s no internal logic to what follows. Simply put, the station has pushed the boundaries of science with all its experimental proton-smashing and traveled into a new dimension of some sort. And in this dimension, things go bump in the night, frequently and with little further explanation as to why.
One scientist’s eye starts to twitch and turn in the opposite direction without warning. There’s a scene where someone extravagantly barfs a tsunami of worms onto his teammates. One of the station’s walls becomes inexplicably porous and devours an arm, transporting it elsewhere and somehow giving it a mind of its own (think Thing from The Addams Family, but with an elbow). The dimensional shift is used as a very vague, science-y excuse for a lot of gross-out imagery, some of it more fun than others. But there isn’t much more to the plot than watching each cast member get tormented by their environment, one at a time.
Woven through all this space horror are the adventures of Michael (Roger Davies), Ava’s husband, who’s back home wrestling with a traumatic family loss that drove Ava to accept her assignment on the station. As the Cloverfield Station (yes, that’s what it’s called) disappears from NASA radars, things begin to get chaotic on Earth as well in an entirely different way. There’s barely enough time with Michael to even call this a B-plot, but his story is the way for the film to connect things to Cloverfield, the 2008 monster movie (also produced by Abrams) that has become the brand name around which largely unrelated films are being organized.