Synopsis: A WWII pilot traveling with top secret documents on a B-17 Flying Fortress encounters an evil presence on board the flight.
Stars: Chloë Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Beulah Koale, Taylor John Smith, Callan Mulvey, Benedict Wall, Joe Witkowski, Byron Coll, Liam Legge, Asher Bridle
Director: Roseanne Liang
Running Length: 83 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: I think we’ve talked before about my not-so-secret aversion to flying but by very public (at least on this blog, anyway) love of all things involving movies and planes. It’s a strange dichotomy, I know, and it must be the universe’s way of trying to cure my fear through a medium I enjoy…but I’m so stubborn that my white-knuckle nature when flying the friendly skies just can’t be fixed. I’m also not talking about enjoying your standard airplane disaster movies like 1970’s Airport or it’s numerous silly sequels but more along the lines of the truly scary ones that present throat-clutching scenarios that elicit yelps and have been the cause for many a canceled transatlantic flight.
One of my favorite examples is Nightmare at 20,000 Feet which is actually part of a larger anthology film, 1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie. (Yes, I know it was originally from a 1963 episode of the original TV series.) I’ve yet to discuss that movie at length as part of my 31 Days to Scare and still might so won’t say much more about it, but it’s a dandy of a freaky fifteen minutes. Clearly, someone else has an affinity for it as well because there’s a new film out that takes a page or two (or three) from that story and uses it as an inspiration for a larger period piece that’s an eventful, if completely ludicrous adrenaline rush of a ride. As one of the last movies to come across my desk in 2020, the overly eager Shadow in the Cloud could have been the last gasp of a year that didn’t know when to quit but it manages to eek by on its suspense and “did they just do that?’ far-fetched action sequences.
In the throes of World War II, a highly classified package needs transportation out of an army base in Auckland, New Zealand and Air Force Capt. Maude Garrett shows up to the all-male crew of The Fool’s Errand, a B-29 bomber charting a course to Samoan Islands with papers granting her a seat. Garrett (Chloë Grace Moretz, Greta) is used to the male bravado instantly on display to both intimidate and (improbably) entice her but doesn’t let it distract her from the job she’s been tasked with. With the only seat available in the gun turret below the main cabin, her cargo must remain above her guarded by a kind crew member (Taylor John Smith, Insidious: Chapter 3) while she is in the cramped space below.
As the plane takes off, the Brit must contend with the close quarters of her seating arrangement, the “locker room talk” of the crew she hears over the radio, a small crack in the glass that separates her from the clouds below, the threat of enemy planes engaging for attack, and another danger that has also hitched a ride on The Fool’s Errand. If you haven’t yet watched the trailer for Shadow in the Cloud, I’d advise against it as it gives away sadly too much of the surprises the hectic flight has in store, including a disappointing amount of the very end of the movie. No, it’s best to go into the movie as blind as possible because that’s how you’ll wring maximum enjoyment out of the wild ride writer/director Roseanne Liang has in store for anyone brave enough to withstand takeoff.
Working from a script originally written by the problematic Max Landis (click here for more details), the producers have gone to great lengths to separate themselves from that predatory persona. I hope that his name still lingering as a writer for legal reasons doesn’t deter people from seeing Shadow in the Cloud because this is largely a fun film with its eye squarely on keeping you at attention, ready at a moment’s notice for things to change course. With the first 45 minutes largely a solo endeavor for Moretz to command the screen (a challenge she meets nicely, by the way) with growing suspense, Liang pivots the movie to a full-scale action/horror mash-up when things get hairy. At a trim 83 minutes, there’s not a lot of breathing room or time to acclimate yourself so you have to keep up with the rapidly changing developments as they fly by.
At times in the first half of the movie I found myself closing my eyes and wondering what this would sound like as a podcast. With only Moretz seen onscreen and everyone else from the crew heard on radio, Liang relies on a good sound design and well-done CGI effects to convincingly isolate her young star in the underbelly of a plane where she’s exposed in a glass dome for everyone to see. When she gets a glimpse of something out of the ordinary and can’t do anything about it, the tension meter starts to rise exponentially and Liang keeps her thumb on our pressure points straight through to the finale. Aside from Moretz’s strong performance, the rest of the cast is a bit of a blur of accents and standard military male archetypes; I mean, it took me forever to even notice Love Simon’s Nick Robinson has a small part as another gunner in the unit.
If the film loses you during it’s juggernaut of a final twenty minutes when the action takes over and the stunt work blends with some at-times unconvincing CGI, I think you may be the wrong audience for the film. I found these sequences to be most audacious and rapscallion, with Liang providing escapist fun for female audience members first and not caring about paying service to the fanboys out there that may decry some of the more non-period implausibility’s. Like Patty Jenkins did with expectations of Wonder Woman and its (better than you’ve heard) sequel, Liang knows how to make a “female action film” without gender-ing it to death.
I found Shadow in the Cloud to be so enjoyable and mostly unpredictable in the way it played out. Maybe experienced travelers will foresee some of the final details and small twists that are interspersed in the film throughout, but I appreciated the way the movie introduces some rather big game changers and then just moves on without lingering in the reveal, pleased with its cleverness. It has a job to do and doesn’t have time to waste basking in any rug pulls. It’s brawny but not quite brainy and gets some good jolts in along the way. You can hardly ask for more in a film of this type. Very worth the travel time.