SHADOW IN THE CLOUD is the latest film from writer/director Roseanne Liang (Do No Harm) which recently had its World Premiere at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival. The film centers around a mysterious WWII pilot . SHADOW IN THE CLOUD stars Chloë Grace Moretz (2018’s Suspiria), Nick Robinson, Callan Mulvey, Beulah Koale, Taylor John Smith, Benedict Wall, Joe Witkowski, and Byron Coll.

To best describe the film, I’ll turn to the official synopsis: “In the throes of World War II, on a rainy morning in Auckland, a group of Allied soldiers prepare to take to the air in a B-17 Flying Fortress. The all-male crew is caught off guard by Captain Maude Gardner boarding their plane carrying a top-secret package. The presence of a woman on a military flight is unusual enough to arouse their suspicion. Just as Maude’s quick wit and military knowledge is winning over the leery crew, strange happenings and holes in her backstory lead to paranoia surrounding her true mission. But this crew isn’t alone in the sky… lurking in the shadows, something with sharp teeth and a taste for chaos is tearing at the heart of the vessel. Crushed between an oncoming Japanese ambush and an evil lurking within, Maude must push her limits to save the hapless crew and to protect her mysterious cargo.”

SHADOW IN THE CLOUD hooks you in right from the beginning upon meeting Captain Maude Gardner as she is about to board a B-17 Flying Fortress with a mysterious package. From that moment until the credits roll, you are strapped in for a fast-paced, wild ride. Whether it’s the surprises at every turn or the feeling of impending doom inside a claustrophobic hatch, SHADOW IN THE CLOUD is sure to elicit an array of emotions throughout it’s 83 minute runtime. SHADOW IN THE CLOUD is a film that does a excellent job of combining WWII components along with a commentary on the treatment of women, especially in the military, as well as a sci-fi/horror element reminiscent of The Twilight Zone.

Chloë Grace Moretz steals the show with her performance as Maude Gardner. If anything, this film shows that she’s capable of being a leading lady as the majority of the movie centers around her being stuck inside a hatch communicating with the men above via an intercom system. I was incredibly impressed with her performance during those moments as I can only imagine how uncomfortable that space must have been. Even when Maude realizes that shit is about to hit the fan, Chloe’s performance of Maude remained focused and determined, never once resorting to what the men consider to be her own “hysteria”. The only time Maude ever becomes truly frazzled is, funny enough, not at the introduction of an unidentified winged creature but when it came to the safety and confidentiality of the package she brought on-board. As for the rest of the cast, which features the men manning the plane, they did their best to be as degrading and sexist as possible to give you an idea of the treatment that these women dealt with, even when in positions of power. Though their attitude towards Maude shifts around the halfway mark, it’s only after they are forced to realize that they need to trust her. That said, I didn’t really care much if they lived or died.

As for the presentation of the film, it was exceptional. With breathtaking views that featured a dreamy twilight sky that turned into a lush clouds as the sun rose, cinematographer Kit Fraser did a beautiful job of showing the infinite vastness of the sky. Furthermore, this allowed for an interesting juxtaposition as the horrors of war and the supernatural elements take place all around. When we do finally see the creature in the flesh, I was a little let down as I felt that the visual effects could have been a bit more finely tuned. I wanted the reveal of the gremlin to hold the same amount of punch that the rest of the film had and was disappointed that the creature left a lot to be desired. That said, where the film did shine was in the practical effects that it used to display the claustrophobic nature of the hatch that Maude finds herself in.  Director Roseanne Liang did a tremendous job of capturing that suffocating feeling and the horrors that accompany being that high up, especially when parts of the hatch fail to work. As a whole, the film has a vibrant, electric, colorful feel to it that really engaged me as a viewer, especially when Mahuia Bridgam-Cooper‘s original score came into play.

As much as I really enjoyed this film (and trust me, I had a blast with it), I couldn’t help but feel that Max Landis’ involvement overshadowed my love for the film. I’m not going to go into the insidious things that Landis has done (you can read about it here) but it was really disappointing to see his name at the top of the credits, before Roseanne Liang (who re-wrote the script and directed the film). When talking with the PR folk who represented the film, they were able to give me some clarification as to his involvement:

“Max did not write the screenplay for SHADOW IN THE CLOUD following his original accusations. Only after he agreed to remove himself from the project and allow re-writes was Roseanne brought in to direct, with her stipulation being that she would never have to be in contact with Max and the script could be hers to change to create opportunities for diverse cast and characters and tell the story through the lens of female empowerment. To sum up, his involvement in the film was finished when he completed the first draft of the script.”

All that being said, I do believe that writer/director Roseanne Liang made a film that celebrates female empowerment. It’s not a perfect film but that’s what I love about it because it’s those flaws that give it character. At it’s core, this is a film that celebrates women, especially at a time when most weren’t ever celebrated. I do wish that it wasn’t so closely tied to The Twilight Zone episode, Nightmare at 20,000 Ft, but even so, it’s kind of neat to see Liang pay homage to that. SHADOW IN THE CLOUD will unfortunately always have ties to Max Landis but it’s important to remember that this movie is so much more than him. It’s a film about a woman’s strength and determination to protect what she loves from the horrors (both real and that of the supernatural) in the world.

Shannon McGrew
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