It’s a tough conversation, but one that needs to be addressed head-on before jumping into actually talking about the film itself. Shadow in the Cloud, despite its best efforts, is written by Max Landis. Landis, the son of veteran filmmaker Jon Landis, is known for writing such films as Chronicle, American Ultra, Victor Frankenstein, and Bright. Recently, Landis has been the subject of multiple sexual assault and domestic abuse allegations. He also has a history of misogynistic statements made via social media. While the team behind Shadow in the Cloud re-wrote the script, removed him from the production team, and attempted to wipe all traces of his influence from the film, Writers Guild of America unfortunately have ruled in his favor to keep him as a credited writer on the film, along with director Roseanne Liang (My Wedding and Other Secrets). I am choosing to review the film to support a Chinese-New Zealand female director taking on a genre film with a female protagonist, trusting in the filmmaker’s statement that most of the film’s content is now from her own work on the screenplay.
Whatever feelings you have on Shadow in the Cloud are valid, and I do not blame you if you would like to avoid the film entirely due to Landis’s work on the film.
It is 1943, and the Allied Forces are fully plunged into World War II in both Europe and the Pacific. Maude Garrett (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a flight engineer tasked with delivering a confidential package to Samoa from New Zealand. Placed last minute on the Fool’s Errand, a B-17 Flying Fortress, Garrett’s presence as a woman is not taken to kindly on-board, and she is placed in the ship’s underside turret. Once airborne, Garrett and the crew must both reckon with the horror of wartime combat as well as a dangerous supernatural force overtaking the aircraft.
If you can’t tell from its description, Shadow in the Cloud is an incredibly ridiculous film that wears its identity as a B-movie proudly on its sleeve. This, mixed with the film’s low-budget production, means that the entire thing does play out like a prestige version of a SyFy Original Movie, and that isn’t particularly a bad thing. I do wish the film had taken a bit more time to invest in some practical effects, as opposed to fully going the CGI route that it did, but there’s a goofily artificial charm to the whole thing that many films avoid entirely these days. Director Roseanne Liang works with the limitations of the film and actually succeeds greatest in the film’s quieter, more claustrophobic moments. It’s near the end of the film when things open up that the film loses its small-scale charm and begins to feel like something that couldn’t live up to its ambition.
Luckily, throughout the entire film, Moretz gives a dedicated performance that forges through even the silliest elements of the film with a grounded ease. Whether it’s the quieter moments, or the film’s over-the-top action sequences, Moretz knows what to bring at any given point. And given that she is the only actor visible for most of the film’s tight 83-minute runtime, she once again proves to be a solid staple for any genre film’s cast.
Probably the strongest element of Shadow in the Cloud is the excellently vivacious score by Mahuia Bridman-Cooper. The choice to use such a boldly electronic score did not feel lazily tacked on in the way that many films in the wake of It Follows tried to emulate. Punctuated perfectly by Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love” in the end credits, this is a film that fully knows what it wants to be from an aural perspective.
If “Wolfenstein in the Pacific Theater” meets Overlord sounds like something up your alley, then I cannot imagine that Shadow in the Cloud would be a waste of a quick 83 minutes of your life. It has its issues, mostly in the film’s final act and pretty much *everything* behind the scenes concerning who is involved with the film’s production, but for a VOD January film, Shadow in the Cloud is a nice, goofy palette cleanser from the sometimes draining dramatic pursuits of awards season. Moretz provides an amusingly grounded performance in a film that is anything but, and Liang’s direction is promising for a career in films a bit less ridiculous and controversial than this one. Despite itself, Shadow in the Cloud is pretty harmless, and sometimes that’s about all you need.
In select theaters, on VOD, and digital January 1st, 2020.
Final Score: 3 out of 5.