Film Review: Shadow in the Cloud
Shadow in the Cloud
Director: Roseanne Liang
Automatik and Four Knights Film
In Theaters and Steaming on Video on Demand 01.01
There’s something about the bombers of the second great war that has always made me drawn to stories about them. Chronicles of these hair-raising missions have always had me hooked amid the imminent danger and the camaraderie of the crew that’s stuck together in these flying buckets of bolts, bonded together by the common desire to complete the mission and land in one piece.
Shadow in the Cloud stars Chloë Grace Moretz as Maude Garrett, a British Flight Officer in the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) in 1943, with a special assignment to board a cargo run from Auckland, New Zealand, to Samoa, carrying a radio bag with top-secret contents. But she’s greeted less than enthusiastically by the captain and crew of her transport, a B-17 called The Fool’s Errand. There’s no place to sit for takeoff, so she’s remanded to the belly gunner’s turret underneath the plane. Unable to take the bag with her, she reluctantly entrusts it with the only crew member who is civil to her.
While stuck in the turret, Maude suddenly sees some sort of creature clinging to the underside of the bomber’s wing. She reports it, but of course, no one believes her. The men on the plane boorishly talk about and repeatedly and nastily talk down to Maude, but it’s not until one of the men also spots the frightening visage of this beast that it occurs to any of them to just talk with Maude. It’s clear that there is more going on than anyone understands, and that there is more to Maude and why she is onboard than anyone even suspects.
In terms of female empowerment mixed with aerobatic action with a WWII theme, Shadow in the Cloud is almost exactly the movie that Sucker Punch so desperately wanted us to believe it was, albeit on a much smaller budget. While it cleverly calls back to Alien, Amazing Stories and the classic Nightmare at 20,000 Feet episode of The Twilight Zone, there’s a visionary quality that makes it a new work all its own, and arguably the most original action film in a number of years. It comes with a passionate feminist subtext that’s also constant and impossible to miss that, at a certain point, it just becomes outright text.
The crowd that got so upset by The Last Jedi and Captain Marvel would probably spontaneously combust upon watching Shadow in the Cloud, which is reason enough to look on it kindly. But it does take a wild, unexpected turn halfway through that you do have to give some allowance for the fact that it’s going to lose some viewers. This is not exactly a subtle film, and the final act comes at you so hard that it will leave some heads spinning, particularly those with old-fashioned views and a chip on their shoulder about it.
But even more progressive viewers may feel unsure what to think initially, and it’s the first film in quite a while to make me feel the need to immediately rewatch just to take it all in and fully digest it. It may seems silly as hell—and frankly, it is—but in all the right ways. It’s a metaphorical fable with a lot to say, and I just hope audiences can be grown-up enough to know when to shut up and listen.
Moretz, who was such a breakout young star in Kick-Ass, Hugo and Let Me In, has had a bit of struggle transitioning into more adult roles—simply because Hollywood writes a finite number of good roles for women, and she’s had trouble landing a project that was suited to her talents. But writer-director Roseanne Liang (My Wedding and Other Secrets) took a script by Max Landis—who is not exactly known for his feminism—and did a major overhaul to it, creating a character that is a perfect match to the actress, and should rank among her most iconic.
The Moretz we all loved is back at the top of her game, giving an exhilarating performance. She’s surrounded by a well-cast ensemble, with Nick Robinson (Jurassic World, Love, Simon) as Beckell, the tail gunner, and Callan Mulvey (Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Outlaw King) as Captain Reeves, the pilot, standing out because they are given the strongest characters. But the breakout star to be excited about is Liang, who emerges as a prime contender for the title of next, great action director, deftly crafting white-knuckle suspense sequences and dynamic action worthy of Indiana Jones or John McClane, and taking us on quite possibly the most exciting vehicular thrill ride since Speed in 1994.
Shadow in the Cloud is a high-flying, popcorn-popping, Roger Corman–meets–Gloria Steinem B-movie homage that breathes fresh creativity into more than one genre. If you’re thinking of viewing it at home, take my advice and spend the extra $5 to own instead of rent, because unless you find yourself in the hater crowd, there’s a good chance you’ll want to watch it again and again. –Patrick Gibbs