It’s January 1st, 2021 and the new year has just come upon us and we’ve already gotten our first film of the year. Premiering at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival as part of the Midnight Madness program and released on New Year’s Day to all major Video On Demand services (although asking $25 is asking a bit too much). Co-writer and director Roseanne Liang and writer Max Landis, presents us with “Shadow In The Cloud”. A mix of a Universal horror B-movie and a Warner Bros wartime adventure. All I can say is. This is how you start off the movie year! This one would have been fun as hell on the big screen.
It is 83 minutes of non-stop fun. A wild and original concept that would usually feel cheap and lame, but here it works to it’s advantage. It’s all owed to the talents of co-writer and director Roseanne Liang, writer Max Landis and it’s star Chloë Grace Moretz (“Kickass” and “Dark Shadows”). I suspect most of the writing comes from Max Landis, since this is right up his alley. Especially considering he is the genes of the legendary John Landis (“An American Werewolf In London”, “Twilight Zone: The Movie”, “Blues Brothers”). It’s a distinct brainchild of the screenwriter, who has seen his career hobbled, by accusations of sexual, physical and emotional abuse towards women. Because of the accusations, while he still gets a writing credit, he has kept his distance from the film.
But Liang and Max Landis get away with one of the films boldest moves and one that I wasn’t expecting, especially if you’ve seen the films trailer. The writers stick their heroine (Chloë Grace Moretz) into a cramped, solitary space for the first half-hour and limits her communication with her co-stars to only communicating through a radio.
To better understand. Here is what the gist of “Shadow In The Cloud” is. After an opening animated sequence that parodies the World War II cartoons that Warner Bros had produced for the Air Force about the mythical “gremlins” that were thought to be the source of aircraft malfunction. The setting is 1943 as we meet Captain Maude Garrett (Chloë Grace Moretz) as she hops onto a B-17 bomber as a last minute addition, carrying with her a leather case containing what she says is “classified cargo”. The men on board are vulgar, hostile and dismissive at the idea of having a female passenger. So the captain forces her to ride in the ball turret during the flight until he can sort out why she’s there.
The ball turret is that compartment shaped like a bubble that is attached under the bottom of a fighter plane and the only thing separating a gunner from a free fall is a dome of glass. The ball turret is used so one of the crew members could man the gun and take out any surrounding bombers in the air. From her vantage point in the turret, Maude can see things that the other crew members can’t, from Japanese spy planes to a monstrous gremlin making its way along the underside of the plane. But since the men are men, they feel they don’t need to listen to a woman and they start to find holes in her story regarding who she is and why she’s there.
Liang and her editor Tom Eagles (“Jojo Rabbit”), pack enough thrills and moments of white knuckle suspense for a film that could have stretched to at least another half hour. What Liang presents here in the 80 minutes is a picture that never has a slacking pace. The pace rockets even during the first thirty minutes as the camera locks onto Moretz and becomes a one woman solo show, while all the drama happens out of sight.
Even the film’s male cast (including Nick Robinson, Taylor John Smith, Beulah Koale and Byron Coll) spend most of the movie off-screen as mere voices on the radio. This is the Chloë Grace Moretz show and she’s clearly enjoying and having fun getting into full Sigourney Weaver mode. She throws those tired gender stereotypes out the window as she has one busted-up hand with the other hand firing weapons and punching monsters with the other.
Because so much relies on the actress, this is the sort of role that would have fallen apart without the perfect one. Chloë Moretz is that perfect choice and embraces the gonzo-ness of the source material and is fully committed to bringing to life a badass heroine. Moretz can still prove as she did in 2010’s “Kickass” that she kicks major butt.
“Shadow In The Cloud” is fueled by pure ridiculousness (hey it’s a B rated monster movie) and the films tight run-time allows minimal time for the audience to stop and take a breath. Even with “Shadow In The Cloud” having a super small budget, that becomes very apparent in the film’s third act during it’s use of visual effects. It’s hard not to applaud Liang to her commitment in making “Shadow In The Cloud” a career choice, see as her background in romantic comedies and documentaries. Her large action sequences, even on a shoestring budget, are impressive. It’s amazing that we get to see a fresh female face and vision behind the camera who really has a strong voice in a genre that is previously dominated by men.
“Shadow In The Cloud” is the stuff that all great period piece B-movies and creature features are made of. Any genre loving fan who can accept completely absurd action and gonzo ideas, all in the name of a good time should probably slap down $25 and add “Shadow in the Cloud” to their digital library. It’s also proof that B-Movies can be high entertainment, that when done right it can be a lot of fun and cool as hell.
GRADE: ★★★★☆ (4 out of 5)