‘Shadow in the Cloud’ Review: Fine Takeoff, Poor Landing
By Daniel Rester
The 2021 movie season kicks off with a pulpy genre flick called Shadow in the Cloud. Starring Chloë Grace Moretz and directed by Roseanne Liang, the film mixes together WWII aerial action, creature feature horror, and female power messages. While that sounds like a hard balancing act, the first two-thirds are relatively smooth flying. The last third gets uneven and nosedives though.
Moretz plays Flight Officer Maude Garrett, a woman assigned to safeguard a package on a flight in 1943. She rides with a crew aboard a B-17 bomber called “The Fool’s Errand” as it makes its way from New Zealand to Samoa. Garrett not only has to deal with her misogynistic co-workers, but also Japanese planes that spot the B-17. Adding to all of this, a gremlin creature has attached itself to the B-17 and is tearing the plane’s parts out.
After the first few minutes, we stay with Garrett in a claustrophobic turret till about the 50-minute mark of the film. Liang uses this time for us to see everything from Garrett’s perspective. She speaks over the radio system to the other crew members, who become increasingly skeptical because of her last-minute addition to the flight. They continually want to know what her top-secret package is as well.
These first two acts are pretty gripping despite being stuck in one location. Moretz, seemingly miscast at first, manages to hold our attention by fully investing in the character’s emotions. Her arguments with the men over the communication system are believable, and the dialogue flow keeps us guessing as to what exactly is in her package and if the crew members will believe her about the gremlin she saw. Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper’s pulsating synth music score adds to the tension as well.
Unfortunately the film drops off in quality once Garrett leaves the turret and the package content is revealed. The whole tone seems to completely shift and suddenly the film becomes more melodramatic and a wacky action picture. Garrett somehow is able to climb on the bottom of the B-17 despite the wind force. There’s also a plane explosion stunt involving someone launching upward that is something even too laughable for the Fast and the Furious pictures. By the time we arrive at the showdown between Garrett and the gremlin, the film has lost itself in silliness and has tried too hard in making Garrett out to be a badass.
The gremlin itself is a cool CGI creation, looking like a giant mutated rat with wings. It never felt like as big of a threat as it should have though. The male supporting characters are also underdeveloped. Fine actors like Taylor John Smith and Nick Robinson play them, but they don’t have much to play on except being tough men who don’t think women belong in the warzone.
Shadow in the Cloud started out from a Max Landis script, but it was partially rewritten by Liang. You can still feel Landis’ prints on certain scenes with the light and goofy B-movie stuff, but that’s an issue as the rest of the more serious material doesn’t match his usual style. Whatever the case, whether Landis or Liang, the writing feels all over the place and brings the film down.
Liang’s film looks slick, has an awesome — if anachronistic — music score, and features a strong performance by Moretz. Some moments in the first half are very suspenseful too, while the turret setting choices are creative. The mixing of the different genre elements doesn’t come out smoothly though. The final stretch of the movie is just ridiculous too. Still, Shadow in the Cloud works just enough of the time for me to be able to give it a lukewarm recommendation to those in search of a short and non-demanding genre effort.
My Grade: 6/10 (letter grade equivalent: B-)
Running Time: 1h 23min