The first half of Roseanne Liang‘s first feature in almost a decade, plays like an atypical World War II movie with a serious The Twilight Zone-vibe. WAAF officer Maude Garrett (Chloë Grace Moretz – ‘Greta‘) gets assigned to a dodgy B-17 Flying Fortress carrying the name “The Fool’s Errand”, where she is custodian of a strictly classified piece of cargo. Forced by the sexist all-male crew to take place in a ball turret hanging from the belly of the plane, Garrett notices a different kind of frightening presence trying to dismantle the bomber, jeopardizing all lives on board. Shadow in the Cloud veers into pulpy action/horror of the most unpredictable kind, with the most bad ass airwoman in cinematic history.
Shadow in the Cloud is a genre film through and through, starting with a high altitude claustrophobic solo-adventure, that halfway through spins everything upside down (literally!) when heart and gore go hand in hand when our flight crew goes toe to toe with their uninvited guest, on board and in the clouds. Luckily, Moretz plays her role with the fragility, fear and confidence necessary to pull it off, without falling into stereotypical clichés. We don’t spend a lot of time with the rest of the international crew, aside from hearing their patronizing and vulgar remarks over the comms-system while Maude is stuck down the hatch. In the second half, these actors get brief moments of glory, but none of them makes a lasting impression. This is Moretz’ film, and she kills it.
The hyper-macho banter can start to annoy at a certain point, but is necessary to build the tension and intensity surrounding Maude and the secrets she carries within herself, and the top-secret package she carries on board. Although the twist surrounding the package feels a tad bit anticlimactic and breaks the film into two completely different stories, it does give Liang a chance to experiment with the often stunning cinematography and paying homage to airwomen with elements regarding feminism in the 1940s.
Moretz’ has been acting ever since she was a child. To see her grow into this empowering yet imperfect “Interwar Ripley” and absolutely look the part, is just glorious to witness. Especially the second half where her Mata Hari-act comes full force and she has to face the ingeniously designed unwanted passenger, is something you rarely see done well in horror. The chilling effects (assisted by the strong editing and camera angles) are of high quality and that chill-factor gets amped-up with Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper‘s electrifying score. They should definitely consider releasing it on vinyl – it’s THAT effective.
Liang’s Shadow in the Cloud builds towards an astonishing spectacle, combining camp and tension in such a refreshing way, while monstrously defying gravity with non-stop action that explodes into a thrilling showdown.
TIFF20 Review – ‘Shadow In The Cloud’
Reviewed online (as part of Toronto International Film Festival), September 17, 2020. Rating: R. Running time: 83 min.
PRODUCTION: A Film & TV House, GEM Entertainment release of a Four Knights Film, Rhea Films production. Producers: Tom Hern, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Kelly McCormick, Fred Berger. Executive producers: Sandra Yee Ling, Terry Dougas, Paris Kassidokostas-Latsis, Jean-Luc De Fanti, Annie Marter.
CREW: Director: Roseanne Liang. Screenplay: Roseanne Liang, Max Landis. Editor: Tom Eagles. Cinematography: Kit Fraser. Music: Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper.
CAST: Chloë Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Beulah Koale, Taylor John Smith, Callan Mulvey, Benedict Wall, Joe Witkowski, Byron Coll.