Synopsis – A female WWII pilot traveling with top secret documents on a B-17 Flying Fortress encounters an evil presence on board the flight.
My Take – I hate to admit it, but once upon a time I was quite a fan of Max Landis, yes, the now disgraced screenwriter who has been accused by multiple women of rape, assault, and psychological abuse, however, my fondness for him resulted mainly due to his hosting abilities at MEFCC (Middle East Film and Comic Con) and the crazy genre binding ideas his films (American Ultra, Victor Frankenstein, Bright) would carry, no matter how abysmal they actually turned out to be. Who would have thought what an appalling lousy person he would turn out to be!
However I feel worse for director and co-writer Roseanne Liang, whose first solo action flick has been stinking with his stench even before release. Though originally the brain child of Landis, the production and its star Chloë Grace Moretz openly broke ties with him, once allegations surfaced, but it’s hard to imagine how difficult it must have been for director Roseanne Liang to convince everyone that she has rewritten the film enough to distance it from one of the most disgraceful writers in history.
It is unfortunate as the final film is without a doubt one of the most bonkers, no-holds-barred pulpiest genre treats I have come across in a while. Acting as a tribute to the adventure films of the 1940s, director Liang‘s film is essentially a very entertaining B-film, that combines horror, brainless action, fantasy, and social commentary, that leans 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 instead as a simple straightforward 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, this one is a crazy joy ride filled with twists and turns that can be completely enjoyed especially when you’re willing to kick back and suspend your disbelief.
Set in 1943, the story follows Maude Garrett (Chloë Grace Moretz), a WWAF officer, a member of one of many women’s auxiliaries who ferried planes during WWII, who boards a B-17 bomber called The Fool’s Errand with a mysterious bag and informs the all-male crew that she is on a highly confidential mission.
Needing to get off the ground and without time to question her assignment, pilot Captain Reeves (Callan Mulvey) accepts the directive, storing her in the turret, located on the underbelly of the plane, with the care of her precious package volunteered to the sole friendly face on flight, Staff Sergeant Walter Quaid (Taylor John Smith).
While she is subjected to harassment and abuse from the men above, it’s also where she first observes that they are being tailed by enemy forces and a strange creature hovering around the wings and before they knows it, all hell breaks loose at 20,000 feet in the air.
The entire premise of this film is remarkably simple, and since the lean runtime of 83 minutes has plenty of plot and action to churn through, including revealing what Garrett’s hiding in her suitcase, and depicting what happens when a crew of useless men has to put their lives in the hands of the woman they couldn’t wait to objectify and dismiss. F
or much of the film’s running time it’s a one-person show, with Maude strapped into a gunner’s turret, spewing hard boiled dialogue to convincingly poke through the veneer of chauvinism from her plane mates. That is until the Gremlin appears and turns into more of a vehicle to showcase director Roseanne Liang’s prowess with a camera.
The films strongest facet is the sheer unpredictability it wields. The plot twists and turns in a logical albeit chaotic manner that will keep you glued to the edge of your seat for its entire run time. Combine this with high-stakes and a willingness to kill off multiple characters, and you’ve got a fantastic new blockbuster.
The visual design is just as fresh and engaging as the sound. Nearly every second of the film is focused on Garrett, creating a story that is told almost entirely from her perspective, without relying on POV shots or other cheap mechanics.
Part of the fun is due to Liang’s direction as she delivers silly and somewhat exciting action sequences. There’s a sequence in the film where Garrett has to climb out of her turret, which leads her to the outside of the plane. As she’s hanging upside down and making her way to the main engine, she has to survive her enemy’s bullets while her important package is hanging off a ledge.
Sure, it doesn’t all come together quite as satisfyingly as one would hope, and director Liang could have pushed the narrative even further, 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.
Ultimately, the film is so proudly ridiculous that you can’t help but like and respect it, perfectly willing to be swept along for the bumpy ride. Even as it nosedives into silly territory which can’t even be calibrated for camp, it’s a film which feels like the making of a small cult success for director Liang.
A major credit for the film’s success goes to Chloë Grace Moretz and her confident and charismatic performance, as she nails both the emotion and physicality of a steely action-hero. Here, Moretz commits to the material she’s given and succeeds, proving once again that she has what it takes to be a badass action star.
In supporting roles, Taylor John Smith, Nick Robinson, Byron Coll, Beulah Koale, Joe Witkowski, Benedict Wall, and Callan Mulvey are also good. On the whole, ‘Shadow in the Cloud’ is a fantastic outlandish popcorn flick that makes excellent use of its genre mash to create an unpredictable guilty pleasure feature.
Directed – Roseanne Liang
Rated – R
Run Time – 88 minutes