SHADOW IN THE CLOUD
2021, R, 83 mins.
ChloŽ Grace Moretz as Maude Garrett / Nick Robinson as Stu Beckell / Beulah Koale as Anton Williams / Taylor John Smith as Walter Quaid / Callan Mulvey as John Reeves / Benedict Wall as Tommy Dorn / Joe Witkowski as Bradley Finch / Byron Coll as Terrence TaggartDirected by Roseanne Liang / Written by Liang and Max Landis
SHADOW IN THE CLOUD is the kind of film that knows precisely what it is and frequently winks at its audience throughout to let them know that it's in on the gag.
The film is a
spectacularly inane hodgepodge of divergent genres, like the creature
feature, the World War II men-on-a-mission thriller, and the female
empowerment action picture...and with equal parts of TWILIGHT ZONE mixed
in for good measure. It's the
type of lurid grindhouse fare that might have had an audience back in the
day for midnight drive-in screenings, but if one looks beyond its pure
schlockiness then it becomes easy to admire how nimble footed and well
oiled everything is here. Checking your brain at the door is an absolute requirement
with SHADOW IN THE CLOUD, and once you're willing to do so then it becomes
quite easy to get lost in its entertaining preposterousness.
Set in 1943 New
Zealand, the film opens by introducing us to an intrepid minded and
courageous military woman, Officer Maude (Chloe Grace Moretz), who's
holding a very secretive looking package while trying to board "The
Fool's Errand," a B-17 bomber that's about to take off.
The crew is made up of a relative motley crew of misogynistic men
that don't take kind to a "dame" entering their bird and don't
seem to give a damn that she's protecting a package of vital importance to
their cause (or so she claims). Refusing
to allow her to stay seated with them in the main sections of the bomber,
the deeply sexist grunts force poor Maude to spend a majority of her
flight in the plane's lower gun turret, which doesn't altogether make for
a comfortable or safe ride for her. She
communicates with the men above her via her headset and radio, but it
becomes clear that they don't seem to respect her, nor her place in the
military, nor the contents of her package.
To make matters worse, she spots multiple Japanese planes flying in
their airspace that seem like they could launch an attack at any moment.
The men's combined chauvinism and the prospect of enemy attacks are
not Maude's biggest fears, though. Without
any explanation or warning, a bat-like gremlin attaches itself to the
plane outside and tries to break in.
The servicemen above Maude in the safety of their cabin, though,
don't buy her claims of a monster trying to claw its way through the gun
turret. With her only exit
handle broken to escape, Maude is on her own against this devilish
SHADOW IN THE
CLOUD is directed with spunky ingenuity by Roseanne Liang, and the script
by her and Max Landis (writer of CHRONICLE)
has a field day with the routinely fine first act of the picture, which
sets up not only the main hero's battle of wills against her fellow male
officers, but it also does a good job of embellishing the claustrophobic
turret environment that becomes her tight home for a majority of the
film's running time. Even though the male characters are introduced quickly in the
story and mostly kept off camera, Liang gets a lot of mileage out of
keeping SHADOW IN THE CLOUD within its small, one location setting (so to
speak), which really allows for the dialogue to flesh out power struggles
at play here. Pretty much
from the beginning of the film Maude is trapped in the turret, and when
not she isn't fending for her life from the Japanese and that vile gremlin
she faces an unrelentingly toxic barrage of hurtful insults from the men.
A majority of the film delves into Maude - a decorated servicewomen
- having to defend her military cred and worthiness to an aggressively
macho team that can only relate to her via cheap objectification.
In many ways, Maude is fighting multiple wars against many
SHADOW IN THE
CLOUD does make decent strides (that pay off handsomely later) to not
paint Maude as a helpless victim, but rather as a resilient, tough minded,
and fully capable of defending herself hero that simply doesn't put up
with any crap from anyone (or any creature).
And it shouldn't really surprise anyone how plausible Moretz is as
a bona fide action hero (remember her work in both KICK
ASS films?), and she's thanklessly good at playing up to her
role's raw physicality while also showing her desperation in demonstrating
that she's just as good (if not better) than any of her male colleagues in
any wartime pressure situation. And
Moretz plays the part with commendable straightness, which helps make her
all the more relatable despite all the wanton and escalating madness that
surrounds her and the narrative progresses.
For a majority of SHADOW IN THE CLOUD it's essentially a one-woman
picture and Moretz has to do much of the film's heavy performance lifting
to sell her dire situation, and she does so admirably.
One could easily claim that the film doesn't think highly in terms
of developing its male characters as anything more than one-note
masochistic stooges, but SHADOW IN THE CLOUD is not about them or their
plight; it's about women like Maude that - in real life, no doubt - had to
fight three times harder than any man to gain a sense of legitimacy in the
armed forces during the era in question.
But, yes, this is
also a work of pure fantasy about a monster that wants to eat its way
through the plane and then thoroughly snack on every human being in it.
For the most part, the genre mishmashing contained here really
works because of its sheer, never look back audacity.
SHADOW IN THE CLOUD tries to be an WWII thriller highlighting the
female experience in combat while also being an outrageous monster mash
picture, and for some this marriage might be hard to swallow (it's tough
to be both a social commentary piece and a pulpy B-movie with a low rent
vibe). Not all of the film flows together as smoothly as it wants
to, but Liang does an admirable job of committing to the sheer insanity of
the premise and, well, just goes for it.
And some of the action set pieces (some small scale, whereas others
with an ambitious largeness considering the limited budget and resources)
pack a reasonable wallop, not to mention that the anachronistic synth
heavy music score by Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper is a real
hoot because it never tries to be era congruent, but rather hums
with a modern sensibility that reiterates the infectious kitchen sink
nature of the piece. To be
fair, some may have difficult taking in some of the film's more
distracting plot twists and a few of - shall we say - logic and gravity
defying action scenes showing Maude and her prized package hanging outside
of the bomber in ways that slap in the face of the laws of physics.
SHADOW IN THE CLOUD dials up the sheer ridiculousness to level 11
in its final act, and at that point you're either with this film...or
Just don't forget to claim and re-insert your brain post-screening.