“Don’t leave me! You don’t know what’s out there!”
Three different films are here. Three vastly different tales of science fiction survival. Only later will you discover how they are inexorably connected to one another.
One is about a giant monster, the other paints a tense picture of cabin fever and the third is a space adventure. So unlike most movie sagas, each one is a different, independent story. Only the name Cloverfield is shared amongst them. And from someone who laps up science fiction, both the old and new alike, they’re still enjoyable movies with concrete-thick tension throughout.
A lot of people will baulk how they’re not original concepts, or that the ending for each wasn’t what they expected. I know for sure I found some of the interpersonal drama a little cringe-worthy at times. But I feel that while each movie each had its own set of faults, the overall journey was worth watching. Be warned though, as each one does not have a happy ending.
A group of young New Yorkers are holding a farewell party for their friend Rob, who is moving to Japan. Friends greet one another and soon enough everyone is having a pleasant time. However, an argument breaks out in private away from the guests between Rob and a girl named Beth. She storms out of the apartment and the evening takes on a rather sour tone. All the while, we are seeing this unfold by the use of their friend Hud and his camcorder.
Before any attempt at reconciliation can be made, the apartment is rocked by, what people assume to be, an earthquake. The partygoers make a beeline to the rooftops, where an explosion rocks the city once more. Debris is flung out and almost strikes their building. Everyone piles back inside the apartment and eventually out on the streets in hopes of gaining some understanding of what is going on. Suddenly, another explosion launches the Statue of Liberty’s head into the nearby street.
With the assembled group of four friends, Rob makes it his prerogative to reunite with Beth, seemingly unperturbed at the devastation around them. During one skirmish with the national guard, the cause of the devastation appears to be a large monster. Later, it begins birthing smaller creatures that drop into the city, a persistent threat permeating throughout their journey.
10 Cloverfield Lane
Our next adventure takes part in the southern states of the USA. Michelle, who has recently broken up with her fiancé, is driving at night from New Orleans. While making her way through Louisiana, ominous radio reports surface about entire cities suffering electrical blackouts. Answering a call from her ringing phone results in her car colliding with an oncoming truck, rendering her unconscious.
She wakes up in a room, chained to the wall. A man, by the name of Howard, walks in and explains that he saved her, not only from the crash but from current events taking place outside. He says the world she once knew has recently been attacked by some unknown force, that society itself has been razed to the ground. He insists they will be unable to leave this subterranean bunker until years have passed and the air is breathable.
Still suffering from disbelief at the unseen atrocities outside, she eventually decides to co-operate with Howard. and is further introduced to a young man called Emmett. He explains that he arrived here after seeing a red flash in the sky. Howard shows her the layout of his well-equipped bunker and explains various rules about keeping things tidy and their responsibilities to do so. He also shows Michelle the hatch leading to the outside. From a reinforced window, she can see dead livestock, plus Howard’s truck, recalling it was this same vehicle she had crashed into.
Over the course of the next few days, the trio learns to accept their fate and try to co-exist with one another. Though the enigma of Howard’s intentions makes for a thick unsettling atmosphere throughout.
The Cloverfield Paradox
Our final story moves on from the contemporary settings of the last two and enters the near future. With an energy crisis looming over humanity, the ‘Shepard Particle Accelerator’ is devised as a solution. Housed in the Cloverfield space station, a small team of multinational scientists hope to create limitless energy from this device. Back on Earth, there are those who believe this endeavour will spell destruction for mankind. Labelled the Cloverfield Paradox, they prophesied the Shepard opening gateways to demonic realms and unleashing hell on Earth.
Over the course of two years, the crew work diligently in testing Shepard’s capability of generating energy, but without success. Finally, one test sees the Shepard forming an apparent stable field, but it leads to a destructive overload. Earth is no longer visible outside of the space station and their gyroscopic device that forms the backbone of interstellar navigation is missing. Bizzare events continue to unfold, such as finding a woman embedded in the hull.
The Shepards earlier overload has crossed the lines between one universe and another, explaining the mysterious occurrences following this key event. With this revelation, the crew embark on returning to their reality, using only the ragged remains of the station to do so.
From the start, the viewer is dropped straight into the drama. There is no opening narration or scrolling text to explain the world around us. The spotlight is tightly focused on a small group of characters and we simply watch time unfold. They aren’t all residing in a nice, comfortable nest of power and control either; as soon as we’ve been introduced to our protagonists, the surreal events wrench control of the entire situation and directly influences the people’s next move.
Our cast of characters for all three films are very small and we quickly learn about each one. Rob’s dogged search for Beth rebounds back and forth with his friend Hud. Michelle’s constant curiosity about the world outside creates tension with Howard. And Mundy’s blunt comedic remarks about the impossibility of the situation can mirror that of the viewer. Each group has it’s a constant balancing act of hope and cynicism, giving each movie a solid core of drama and tension within the characters.
The very cataclysms that affect the first two films are of such magnitude, that for the most part our protagonists can do nothing but run and hide. In Paradox, they’ve a better grasp on the situation, with tools to hand to effect a change. Though with the second movie, the horror is built up within the narrow confines of the bunker. Michelle is shielded from events outside, making this movie rather unique and more of an endurance test.
Weathering the storm
For the most part, our protagonists aren’t panicky morons and running around like headless chickens. The horror is sometimes subtle and occasionally brutal, though mostly the former. With the initial cataclysm for each movie, our cast learns to adapt quickly, some faster than others. Even for those in Cloverfield, the familiar surroundings of New York certainly provide momentary focus, regardless of the collapsing infrastructure. Howard’s preparedness of his bunker initially feels like a sanctuary, providing a brief respite from the outside.
The overall threat dips in and out from time to time to keep the players on their toes. Seeing the smaller creatures run amok in Cloverfield causes havoc with the young New Yorkers. Now the threat is not simply a larger-than-life wave of destruction but a direct assault on their level. However, the young people have the advantage of knowing how to navigate the sprawling metropolis, adapting to alternate routes rather quickly when needed.
With Michelle, the fact the threat outside is an unseen force promotes constant disbelief within her and Emmett. While Howard is more than content enough to endure within the confines of his bunker. His self-assurance that life is simply better below ground creates enough tension to distance the two younger people. It’s this conflict alone that tempts them to find more about their host. While he appears to be curmudgeonly accepting of the younger two, his patience is clearly frayed by both the additional visitors and the outside event.
As mentioned earlier, the crew in Paradox have a clearer understanding of solving the disaster they’ve created. Solutions are found but new problems are presented and workarounds are made up on the spot to solve this immediate issue. Being exposed that much closer to the horror, the crew of the Cloverfield Station are at greater risk overall than the prior films. Death scenes are far more common here than in previous movies and exceptionally graphical in some instances. They are literally at the mercy of clashing realities.
Thankfully, you don’t need to see each movie to understand the next or the one before it. Each one is a series of isolated events with varied backdrops, themes and antagonists. All three movies offer a very different tale, with only the name Cloverfield being present in all three. So as they stand, it’s just a question of what horror movie you prefer. Do you like enormous kaiju-style monster films, cabin fever psychological horror or a simple tale of space survival?
While their concepts aren’t original, even to the point of being able to correctly predict particular moments, the meat of each film is the journey itself. Protagonists will have some sense of what is the right choice but the obstacles are mostly insurmountable. The ultimate enemy for each one is beyond rational thought, something that can’t be fixed with the right tool or a big enough gun. And without going into any detail, each film does not have a happy ending.
The characters in each one begin as an average Joe, but the experiences they face fundamentally change them. They start as frightened individuals but the exceptional circumstances force them to adapt to crushing responsibilities. Hud’s jokes become less funny, Emmet’s witticisms reflect the dour mood and Mundy’s frankness become a little island of reality in a sea of impossibility. Each person has their own ways of dealing with the unfolding events.
The antagonistic force for each one feels more like a force of nature than something personal. Most of the cast understand the ramifications of their world no longer being a safe place. Yet their resolve to either escape or solve the crisis remains the driving force. Some won’t make it out alive either, as these films aren’t shy about portraying their grisly demises. However, 10 Cloverfield Lane shows us more of interpersonal conflict. The unseen event broods throughout, and while we (and the characters) may glimpse upon the outside world, they have to deal with the simple fact of living with one another for now. The enemy is the other person and trust might meander from threadbare to solid, but it’s never fully reinforced among all three.
For a large monster film, Cloverfield does a good addition to this genre. The shaky cam viewpoint may not be to everyone’s taste but seeing the action from head height successfully brought in a new angle to proceeding events. Yet the emotional drama amongst the young people will sometimes detract from the larger issue at hand.
4 out of 5
10 Cloverfield Lane
It’s the ultimate endurance test. A simple premise of three strangers co-habiting while the world outside is either nuked, chemically attacked or invaded by aliens. John Goodman portrays the host with absolute intimidation throughout; from seemingly meek accommodating host to angry bear with a nation-sized chip on his shoulder.
5 out of 5
The Cloverfield Paradox
Space seems to be the science fiction genre’s ‘desert island’ and this is certainly no different. Apart from a handful of decent performances from the key ensemble, the setup seems familiar enough to gauge what each character will do. The fact that they’re in a position to invoke some change dampens the horror somewhat. All they have to do is see it through to the end.
3 out of 5