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SHADOW IN THE CLOUD (2020) review

January 1, 2021

 

written by: Max Landis and Roseanne Liang
produced by: Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Kelly McCormick, Tom Hern & Fred Berger
directed by: Roseanne Liang
rating: R (for language throughout, sexual references and violence)
runtime: 83 min.
U.S. release date: January 1, 2021 (theaters, Amazon Prime Video & other VOD options) 

 

“Shadow in the Cloud” plays like a pulpy story out of an anthology collection that somehow came to life on screen. It’s unfortunate it’s not a big-screen, since what transpires in this taut action thriller would be something to behold and get lost in. It’s easy get lost in this exciting wartime horror yarn on whatever size screen and sound system you have, but it’s probably ideal to watch at night with the lights out, free of distractions. It may be a period piece, but “Shadow in the Cloud” isn’t confined to any set distinctions which makes fun to figure what kind of twists and turns it’ll take next.

Before the opening credits and the story gets going, there’s a silly animated segment which resembles the kind of toons that were made in the 50s, like the instructional “Duck and Cover” classic. The goal of the short PSA is to inform viewers (those who are serving in the war once can assume) that there is indeed the possibility of encountering gremlins – yes, actual gremlins – while in the air and they are often to blame for any malfunctions on the Allied Air Forces’ fleet.

It’s obvious we’ll be revisiting this topic later on in the story, so strap in. This is just a hint at the tone Liang is going for, but it’s also preparing viewers for a certain frame of mind and to get on board.

The movie then opens on a rainy tarmac in 1943 in what one can presume is Australia. A woman carrying a top secret case the size of a small carry-on appears out of the mist and fog. She is awaiting a B-17 bomber plane named “The Fool’s Errand” that’s rolling her way and as she boards she introduces herself as British flight officer, Maude Garrett (Chloë Grace Moretz), who was assigned on this nighttime supply drop flight to Aukland, New Zealand. Right away, the all-male crew doubt her credentials and are suspicious of her identity, capabilities and motives on their plane, furiously waving their misogyny flag.

 

 

Regardless, after some brief introductions (in which such incredulous reactions like, “Is that a dame?” and “Aw come on, a broad?” can be heard), Maude settles into the ball turret of the plane’s belly. She lowers herself in only after one of the crewman, Walter Quaid (Taylor John Smith), agrees to keep her mysterious package safe and upright. Trying her best to deal with or ignore altogether the crass and sexist chatter she’s subjected to over radio that connects Maude to the crew, while being her claustrophobic position affords her with a vantage point that none of them above her have.

Once she is fit into the snug spot, this first act becomes a fascinating introduction to Maude, the crew she is thrown in with, and their specific environment. The camera managed by cinematographer Kit Fraser (who did fantastic work on 2016’s “Under the Shadow”) stays positioned on Maude, yet when we the rest of the crewmen introduce themselves by name, editor Tom Eagles (a frequent collaborator of Taika Watiti’s) cuts to each of these men as if they are on a dark stage walking into a light for the sole benefit of the audience. It’s an interesting approach taken by Liang, since Maude can only hear what we see, but there’s a certain balance there because what she can see from the turret can only be seen by her.

 

 

The problem is, whatever Maude sees will be doubted by the men she communicates with. So, those Japanese fighter plans flying in the clouds below her and the gremlin (with the claws and the teeth and the long tail) that she just frantically fended off, are initially dismissed with much laughter. After the initial attack by this rascally gremlin (that’s right, we’ll definitely see more of it), it’s solidified that this is much more than any of us thought it would be. “Shadow in the Cloud” is like “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet” on a Redbull cocktail.

We eventually learn more about Maude (along with the crew) as she fights off this creature, and as the adrenalized story unfolds at a breakneck pace we learn her true motives and what’s in the content of her top secret cargo. Those two revelations may seem either fitting or a bit much to take in, but if you’re on board for everything Liang is dishing out up till then, you should have no problem with any of those reveals. However you feel about the story after that, there’s no doubt there are stronger steaks involved, and an already game Moretz really clamps down hard, delivering a strong performance that conveys true grit and emotion.

 

 

While the rest of the crew are eventually seen as opposed to strictly being heard thru through the comms, most of them are really only there to serve as a source of contention for Moretz’s Maude. Once the plane is attacked by the Japanese planes and the gremlin, they are too busy for us to get to know any of them. Still, actors such as Nick Robinson, Joe Wikowski, Byron Coll, Beulah Koale, and Callan Mulvey, truly convey a sense of shock and rattled horror at what transpired within and around their threatened aircraft.

“Shadow in the Cloud” was originally written by Max Landis and if you know anything about his previous work, you can see how this would be within his wheel house. That being said, director Roseanne Liang wound up rewriting most of the story numerous times in order to distance the movie (along with cast and crew) from the multiple accusations of sexual misconduct that has surrounded Landis. It’s anyone’s guess whose voice the bug nuts movie ultimately winds up with, but it’s clear Liang and Moretz come out on top with its feminist focus that combats toxic masculinity straight on.

Considering all that transpires in this movie, it’s easy to claim it a crazy and impressive delight. I would love to see Liang direct more action fare and if she wants to reunite with Moretz, I’m not gonna complain. It’s something akin to a miracle that “Shadow in the Cloud” was made, let alone greenlit. It’s insane and bonkers and I am here for it.

 

 

RATING: ***

 

 

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