“If You Don’t Conform To What She Wants Then Suddenly You’re The Enemy…”
Debuting at this year’s Sundance Film Festival to an overwhelmingly positive critical reception, Luce is the latest from Nigerian-born filmmaker, Julius Onah, whose previous high profile release in the form of Netflix’s, The Cloverfield Paradox, immediately branded him as a cinematic fish out of water, with the big budget sequel undoubtedly one of the silliest and most misjudged so-called science fiction movies in recent memory. Moving away from nonsensical space stories for the time being and into the realm of Hitchcockian-esque drama, Onah’s latest is a deliciously directed and incredibly well crafted step in the right direction, an absorbing and beautifully looking low-key mystery which finely balances cutting familial tensions, a contemporary social commentary and a Twin Peaks style small-town uncertainty revolving around the film’s titular character, one brought to life thanks to a gripping central performance from Kelvin Harrison Jr. who continues to impress after his work on the underrated 2017 horror, It Comes at Night.
With it being difficult to explain the central plot of the film without moving into spoiler territory, Luce primarily follows Harrison Jr.’s model all-star student, years after he was adopted away from his war-torn homeland of Eritrea and into the white-picket fenced household of Amy and Peter Edgar, portrayed superbly by Naomi Watts and Tim Roth respectively who reunite after their work together on Michael Haneke’s English language shot-for-shot remake of Funny Games. After concerns regarding Luce’s beliefs are raised by Octavia Spencer’s (The Shape of Water) overbearing teacher, a battle of wills and words soon begins between both professor and student as certain mysteries surrounding Luce’s personal life and agenda soon materialise, much to the dismay of Watts’ Amy who begins to wonder whether her beloved adopted son is actually who she thinks he is. With the the film managing to expertly handle that fine line between exposition and intelligent storytelling, Luce works thanks to a narrative approach which begs the audience to make up its’ mind regarding what they are observing on screen, and in an era in which cinema annoyingly finds the need to spoon feed the plot to cater for everyone in the audience, Onah’s second high profile release is an absorbing redemptive piece which will make you contemplate events long after the closing credits.
Overall Score: 8/10
“I Don’t Know What To Believe Anymore…”
Dropping out of nowhere and onto Netflix in a remarkably abnormal and somewhat anarchic fashion, The Cloverfield Paradox, the second sequel to Matt Reeves’ 2008 shaky-cammed monster marathon Cloverfield after 2016’s claustrophobic, 10 Cloverfield Lane, bears it teeth without any sign of meaningful marketing or propaganda-esque pushing aside from a thirty second trailer proceeding its’ release only hours before its’ availability worldwide on everyone’s favourite streaming service. Whilst such a decision is undoubtedly refreshing and boundlessly groovy, the question remains whether the film itself is worthy addition to a franchise which deserves plaudits for its’ adventurous attempts at building a somewhat Twilight Zone infused shared universe, and with a cast list featuring the likes of Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Miss Sloane), Daniel Brühl (Rush) and David Oyelowo (Selma), and a ideas-based narrative which attempts to solve the ambiguities of its’ predecessors, The Cloverfield Paradox, on paper, has success stamped all over it. Unfortunately however, Netflix’s latest high profile release is a ludicrous mess of a movie, one which begins in absorbing fashion with acres of room to flex its’ muscles but then descends into a shark-jumping bore-fest which not only veers the franchise off course, but could potentially endanger it completely.
Attempting to gel together the mystery at the heart of the franchise in regards to the origin of the destructive beast from the first entry, The Cloverfield Paradox, directed by big-time debutante, Julius Onah, follows Mbatha-Raw’s Ava Hamilton as she crews up with her expeditious space team aboard the Cloverfield Station in order to test the particle accelerator by the name of “Shephard” which has been designed in order to combat the life-threatening global energy crisis on Earth. Mixing in elements of Interstellar, Event Horizon and in regards to its’ dealings with augmented reality splits, the rather excellent, if little seen, Coherence, Onah’s movie suffers from having too much to say without any real follow-through, and with a wildly inconsistent tone which rakes in awfully timed comedy amidst perils of catastrophic possibilities, The Cloverfield Paradox is undoubtedly a missed opportunity and hands down the worst entry of the franchise thus far. With Chris O’Dowd being the glaring error of casting, with his supposedly intellectual character undoubtedly the most cringe-worthy performance of the year so far, and elements of slapstick-laden body horror amidst dialogue which can only be described as the cinematic equivalent of a paint by numbers book, Netflix’s latest big budget cornerstone is really quite poor, and even when the ideas on the surface are interesting enough to warrant some form of applause for trying, the execution is badly managed and ultimately, a sobering disappointment.