Shadow in the Cloud Review
Director Roseanne Liang faced a considerable challenge with her new film Shadow in the Cloud; how to turn a script initially penned by a well-known misogynist and abuser (who we shall not be naming here) into something that could draw a crowd without sharing the spotlight with the original writer? By reworking the script several times over and persevering against all odds, is how.
Shadow in the Cloud follows Maude Garrett (Chloë Grace Moretz), who climbs aboard a B-17 bomber called The Fool’s Errand with a mysterious bag and tells the all-male crew she is on a highly confidential mission. She is quickly banished to the ball turret, which is basically a tiny ball with guns that hangs underneath the aircraft, and is subjected to harassment and abuse from the men above. It’s also where she first observes a strange creature hovering around the wings and before she knows it, all hell breaks loose at 20, 000 feet in the air.
Liang’s film is full of cheesy fun; it’s essentially a B-movie, fully rooted in fantasy and leaning hard on the inherent dumbness of its increasingly bonkers narrative. While it clearly has a feminist bone to pick, this is not designed to be remembered as intelligent or thought-provoking, but simple straightforward fun. Not everything makes sense and Liang can’t quite pull it all off in the end, but it is a crazy joy ride filled with twists and turns.
Shadow in the Cloud is aided by a wonderful performance by Moretz. At least half of the film is spent with her inside the ball turret, a tiny space with very little room to put or move a camera in. Moretz’s expressive face keeps things interesting and it’s an inspired, bold move on Liang’s part not to cut between the ball turret and the main part of the plane where the rest of the crew are located. They are only heard, but not seen, adding to both the excitement and the anxiety of key moments.
If you were hoping for a serious film about the terrors of war, then look elsewhere. This is part creature-feature, part-feminist thriller, but it is never anything but pure entertainment and in that regard it’s pretty first class. Smartly, Liang doesn’t attempt to conceal her monsters, but shows them up close, without any delay. Critics, myself included, often say less is more, but that doesn’t apply to a film like this. Here, we crave those clunky, bat-looking things to dominate the screen and for Moretz’s Garrett to obliterate them in glorious fashion. And indeed, she does exactly that in impressive fashion.
Sure, it doesn’t all come together quite as satisfyingly as you’d hope, and Liang could have pushed the narrative even further – the story, apart from a few bonkers set pieces, is a little on the forgettable side – but there is something giddy and powerful about an action film centered on a female hero whose greatest power is her womanhood. That shouldn’t be an off-putting quality because this isn’t interested in controversy or overt feminism, even if it includes strong feminist elements, but on action and creating a character with believable and acceptable character traits and motivations.
Shadow in the Cloud certainly won’t be for everyone, but it is unapologetically weird, intense and wears its schlocky heart on its sleeve. It’s an old-school actioner that just wants you to enjoy its breezy 83-minute runtime and leave with a big grin on your face. Sold by a winning performance from Moretz and lamenting Liang a talent to watch, it’s a rare treat. Come for the monsters, stay for the girl power.
Shadow in the Cloud is available in select US cinemas, on VOD and digital from January 1, 2021.