'Shadow in the Cloud' knows its role and launches into the more extravagant B-movie tendencies that less emphatic abandon would squander. It goes for it, full stop.
- ✈️ First half is tense, cramped, and thrilling.
- ✈️ Minimalism isn't a hindrance.
- ✈️ Second half is...insane.
- ✈️ The final thirty minutes (about) are an unpredictable freefall, but lose the previous atmospheric edge.
- ✈️ Chases momentary excitement over cohesion.
- ✈️ Supporting characters are afterthoughts.
Roseanne Liang’s Shadow in the Cloud left me thinking "what in the silly skybound [f-word]," after the credits rolled. Gremlins, confidential packages, and bullet holes, oh my! The B-Movie appreciator within is amused and entertained, while the analytical critic is bewildered at best. Liang and co-writer Max Landis weld together World War II espionage thrills with bonkers-level midnighter logic that aims to empower female perspectives in an otherwise sexist, misogynist, boys-club military echo chamber. What if Rosie the Riveter found herself thousands of feet in the air, fighting inequality and a surprise foe? I...still don’t know if I’m adequately selling the whacked-out zaniness of Shadow in the Cloud.
Chloë Grace Moretz stars as Maude Garrett, pilot and Captain in the U.S. Army Air Corps. She boards commander John Reeves’ (Callan Mulvey) overnight cargo hauler with direct orders and a sealed pouch meant to remain that way. “The Fool’s Errand” soars towards its destination, but Garret, shoved into the underbelly gunner’s nest, claims she spots something on the plane’s wing. A shadow, crawling like an animal. Reeves’ crew belittles the “spooked” girly, but quickly find themselves in danger. Is it Japanese fighters in pursuit? Or is the outline a more sinister stowaway?
It’s the kind of voyage where brains should be powered down, as implausible Fast & Furious franchise logic keeps Maude alive. Whether that’s a scientifically ignorant depiction of how gravity, explosions, and bodies work in unison (I burst out laughing, y’all), or Maude’s anxiety-triggering acrobatics as she climbs outside the B-17’s hull without any harness or safety measures. Shadow in the Cloud is cuckoo-bananas crazy, but Liang commits with all-in vigor. For fiftyish minutes, the film barely leaves the glass-and-iron defensive dome with only one death-drop view before Maude can rejoin the vessel’s crew once again - in a movie that doesn’t even top ninety minutes total. Still, somehow, Liang finds ways to play out-of-bounds.
Results? They’ll vary.
As Shadow in the Cloud’s tone bounces around between creature-feature, Twilight Zone riffage, gendered exploitation commentary, and outright video game shenanigans, scenes all-but smash into one another. Moretz’s supporting cast is never issued importance, as the likes of Nick Robinson, Taylor John Smith, Joe Witkowski, and others are reduced to revolting voices over radio comms chatter (all make lewd comments about bedding Moretz’s lone representation). Mere pawns as Mauve treats the airborne steel coffin as her personal playground, shoving development aside as themes waffle between slight sincerity and comic-book style cartoonishness. The schlock is heavy, and maybe too heavy, given how it weighs down subplots about secret romances, their consequences, and extreme survival miracles. Landis’ influences are...noticeable.
It’s a mixed bag because there are aspects I adore. Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper’s zippy synthwave era soundtrack set against 1940s backdrops, Moretz’s “girls get shit done” attitude, and yeah, choice spurts of absurdity call for the butteriest orders of popcorn. On the flip, Shadow in the Cloud feels like an unhinged story about motherhood, identity, and military jargon that’s always at odds with itself. A film that teeters between sensational insanity and selective sternness struggles when balancing the batshit with the profoundly frustrated. A narrative that’s trapped within its tall-tale tendencies, dogfight panic, and methods of storytelling restricts our viewpoints with purpose, but begets unintended circumstances.
Shadow in the Cloud is a courageous chamber piece that doesn’t gel the sum of all its banged-into-place parts. Roseanne Liang certainly isn’t selling genre embellishment short, but there’s an incompleteness to the overall dangers. It’s an experience that renders itself in a continual tailspin yet only pays attention to one focal character as an entire crew hangs on for dear life. Once again, that’s intentional. Once again, that also sells cohesive packaging short. The heights-fearer within can confirm adrenaline will pump, but that manufactured serotonin burst isn’t enough to distract from Liang’s lax command over the film’s balance between poignancy and preposterousness. Better suited for audiences who are just fine strapping in and enjoying the claustrophobic ride, turbulence be damned.
Shadow in the Cloud will be available on VOD January 1st, 2021.
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