Director: Roseanne Liang
Writers: Roseanne Liang, Max Landis
Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Taylor John Smith, Callan Mulvey, Beulah Koale
Producers: Fred Berger, Tom Hern, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Kelly McCormick
Music: Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper
Cinematography: Kit Fraser
Editor: Tom Eagles
Running time: 83mins
What’s the story: 1943, a New Zealand airbase. Flight Officer Maude Garret (Moretz) boards a B-17 Flying Fortress on a top secret mission to Samoa. When in the air, she sees something on the wing…
What’s the verdict: Midway through Roseanne Liang’s deliriously entertaining World War 2 monster movie, Chloe Grace Moretz’s heroine declaims to the movie’s big bad, “You have no idea how far I’ll go!”
This also seems to be writer/director announcing her mission statement to the audience. As you realise how far Liang is prepared to go with her Twilight Zone-style premise, your giddy laughs of disbelief will come thick and fast .
From the title credit’s bold yellow font and accompanying synth score, we’re clearly in sci-fi B-movie territory previously traversed by John Carpenter, George Miller and Joe Dante.
Like those guys and filmmakers from the 50s and 60s, Liang understands B-movies are fertile ground for social commentary. Duly, Shadow in the Cloud positions itself as an unabashedly unsubtle tale of female empowerment and broad strokes feminism.
Which could all tailspin and crash into the Land of Good Intentions. But, the dazzling execution and Moretz’s star turn as action-hero-in-the-making, Maude Garrett ensures the film sticks the landing. Also, unlike many a female action hero, Garrett could only have been written as a woman rather than undergoing a script-stage gender swap.
Garrett is first seen standing before The Fool’s Errand, the B-17 bomber inside which the film’s action unfolds. Sporting a broken arm and a mysterious package, she informs the crew she’s under orders to hop a ride with them to deliver her cargo.
Unhappy that a “winged dame” is cadging a flight, the chauvinistic crew banish her to the belly gun and lift off into the night.
Male cast members are note-perfect support, but this is Moretz’s show. But, shout outs to Callan Mulvey as the disgruntled captain, Taylor John Smith as a lone sympathetic crew member and Beulah Koale as a Samoan co-pilot tolerated about as much as Garrett.
A film of two halves, Shadow in the Cloud’s first section is locked inside the belly gun with Garrett. Although giving as good as she gets over the internal comms with the belligerent crew, they’re reluctant to accept the interloper or address her by rank. Or believe her when she says some kind of animal is crawling on the wing.
We’ve been here before. The Twilight Zone put William Shatner through a similar experience on the small screen in the 1963 episode, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. Then on the big screen with John Lithgow, in the Nightmare at 30,000 Feet segment of 1983’s The Twilight Zone: The Movie.
Like those Zone episodes, Liang makes imaginative use of the plane for this claustrophobic first section. Shadows and off-kilter framing complement a story unfolding through combative dialogue and shadows in the clouds. Neatly building characters and ramping tension, Liang then shifts her movie into top speed for the climactic second half… and it soars.
Granted, logic succumbs to altitude sickness. But, as all involved are 100% committed to delivering the action payload disbelief should be willingly suspended.
The standout is a 6-minute set-piece that initially seems to sabotage the movie’s tone… until you realise how far Liang will go. When preposterousness is done well it is preposterously exciting.
The bottled first half allows Liang to splash the presumably modest budget on later action set-pieces and the all-important gremlin, an imaginatively ugly spud with “pointedly” phallic claws and tail.
An unfortunate sidenote is the involvement of #MeToo accused Max Landis. Jettisoned as a producer while the film was in production, Landis receives a co-writing credit after he supplied an initial draft.
Ultimately, Shadow in the Cloud is a perfect movie to lighten these dark times. As well as being the type of film that makes you hope for a vaccine breakthrough ASAP; this will play like gangbusters in front of a crowd…