Shadow in the Cloud flies in for a bumpy landing right out the gate—it’s an incredibly ambitious film directed and co-written by a feature first-timer (Roseanne Liang). The chaotic script is also penned by controversial #MeToo poster boy Max Landis, and it’s basically a rip-off of the “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet” episode of The Twilight Zone crossed with The Bat People.
Set in the thick of World War II, Captain Maude Garrett (Chloe Grace Moretz), a pilot and mechanic, joins the all-male crew (Nick Robinson, Callan Mulvey, Taylor John Smith, Beulah Koale, Joe Witkowski, Byron Coll, and Benedict Wall) aboard a B-17 bomber. With her is top-secret cargo. Even though this precious package’s conveyance is her sole mission, she allows herself to become separated from it as the crew places her inside the glass ball-turret under the plane for the duration of the flight.
Over comms, the guys crack wise about Maude’s looks and rank—they refer to her as missy, dame, dolly, pussycat, honey, sweetheart, and one even surmises that her “ass” is “hotter than the devil’s c**k.” Maude handles all of this with poker-faced cool… until she doesn’t. But she barely gets to go off on the sexist squadron before additional problems come to light. One is a stealthy enemy plane lurking in the clouds, the other is a gremlin on the wing of the B-17. The creature looks like a hairless bat with a rattail. Maude tries to warn the crew above, but she’s met with derision and disbelief. When the gremlin turns its attention from rearranging the plane’s guts to focus on tearing Maude apart, Shadow in the Cloud takes a nosedive.
Shadow in the Cloud has some good things going for it. It is fast-paced, and at just 88 minutes, it can’t veer too terribly far off course. The claustrophobic interior scenes are shot interestingly with some unique angles, and the synth-heavy score, though not period-correct, keeps things moving along as well. Moretz carries the film. While she isn’t quite believable in her 1940s garb, she does her best with overly-obvious dialogue and jarring tonal shifts. As an actor, I’m sure she enjoyed sinking her teeth into this whacky role—it’s all about Maude, and she’s in every scene.
The rest of the cast pulls their weight, and so does the gremlin. The aerial action is admirable indeed, if unbelievable (even for a fantasy film… Maude manages to close the hatch in midair with her bare hands despite major wind-velocity).
The flick is set in 1943 (incidentally, that is the same year author Roald Dahl published “The Gremlins”), but of course, the effects are 2020 all the way. The monster itself is ferocious and formidable. Weta’s digital dream-team are the artists, and while it looks great when it is by itself, the creature never feels like it exists in the same frame as Moretz when the two get into hand-to-talon combat.
Overall, I have to say I didn’t love Shadow in the Cloud. Part of it is my own bias (not a fan of most monster movies), but part of it is the clunky screenplay that simply doesn’t allow everything to come together in the end (the ending is the worst part of the movie). However, if you enjoyed “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet,” Stephen King’s “The Langoliers,” or even “Hare Raising,” (the Merrie Melodies cartoon in which Bugs Bunny fights with a pest to prevent crashing his Air Force plane into the ground), then Shadow in the Cloud is worth a look.