dir: Roseanne Liang
So. This movie exists. It was made. And released. Kinda.
And what a bonkers movie it is. When I started watching it initially, and I saw the name “Max Landis” in the credits, I thought, eh. Landis is not best known for being the son of legendary director John Landis, who is not best known for making legendary films like Animal House, The Blues Brothers or An American Werewolf in London – he’s best known for getting Vic Morrow and two child actors killed on the set of The Twilight Zone movie due to unsafe filming practices.
And Landis junior isn’t best known now for writing the decent script for found footage superhero flick Chronicle, or American Ultra with Jesse Eisenberg as a stoner Jason Bourne / super assassin, he’s best known for multiple accusations of sexual assault and harassment.
So now that I know that, I’ll never watch anything new he’s involved with. I am assured by Wikipedia and multiple interviews online that while Max Landis wrote some script initially, it was completely re-written by Roseanne Liang, but his name still appears because of Writers Guild of America requirements.
Whatever. I think it’s very weird that an essential element of this flick, being some kind of gremlin that lives to destroy planes, is straight out of one of the segments from The Twilight Zone movie, which involved John Lithgow going more and more insane while seeing something on the wing of a plane destroying an engine, with no-one believing him. A movie, though not that segment, that his dad directed and nearly went to jail because of.
The difference here is that the lead character no-one believes at first is a woman (Chloë Grace Moretz), and it’s set during World War II in the Pacific, and she is the living embodiment of Rosie the Riveter, and her fighting a gremlin or bunch of gremlins on a B-17 bomber is the least implausible part of the script.
I don’t know exactly when this was made, but for most of the film her character of Flight Officer Maud Garrett is trapped in the turret underneath the bomber as it flies towards Guam, or somewhere else, hard to keep track. It’s almost as if the flick was trying to find cute work-arounds on how to make a flick during quarantine in a way that doesn’t make it obvious that everyone has to be kept away from everyone else. Or, since it seems like it was probably mostly made in June 2019, maybe it looks like a flick made in quarantine, but really it’s a flick made with a tiny budget.
So, for most of the flick she’s in this confined space, arguing with the crew of the bomber, most of whom she will only ever interact with over the radio.
They are all given this awesome / weird intro, with lights and colours whipping around them, almost like bosses along the journey a player in a a game must face, putting faces to the voices, people who we’re only ever going to see for seconds before they’re unceremoniously killed.
Immediately, the second she’s on board, the various ethnically diverse flight crew speak only horribly about her. They’re either crudely sexual, violently threatening, dismissive or distrustful. Maud, with a delightfully unconvincing English accent that would only convince someone that she was English if they had only ever heard English accents on The Simpsons, remains unfailingly polite and focussed on the job at hand, which is to deliver some package, and to fight the Japanese in the air.
It’s kinda horrible, that first bit, but it gives us the set up for a sexist and hostile environment that will only ever get more hostile and dangerous because of gremlins and Mitsubishi Zeroes trying to shoot them out of the sky. It’s probably a commentary on toxic masculinity and hostile work environments, but eh.
So, with her trapped in the turret, we mostly have a camera centred on her face with a radio play of distrust and threats playing out in the background, until she spies something on the outside of the plane.
Violent action ensues. The gremlins are the stuff of nightmares, at least, the stuff out of my nightmares. They’re like a cross between those hairless cats and wingless bats, but far uglier. There’s also this weird sexually threatening imagery, as when one them is trying to get into Maud’s turret, and it sneaks this awfully dick-like prehensile “thing” into her, um, turret. And then later it’s flashing its strange, strange mouth parts at her.
I don’t get it, and maybe I don’t want to think about it too much. What it’s trying to do and why is a mystery that is never solved, but it is definitely trying to fuck up the plane, and it’s very interested in hurting Maud, and it’s really interested in her mystery package, for some reason.
At first Maud is fighting to survive in very close quarters, plus she’s having to shoot Japanese planes that are attacking them, that the crew don’t believe her about either until they’re right on top of them, but then the damaged turret and the further attacks on the bomber means she must break free if any of them are to survive.
She wants to break free. She wants to break free from their lies, they’re so self-satisfied, she doesn’t need them. God knows she wants to break free.
And she does, in ways and means that wouldn’t be out of place in a Marvel flick, but this is being put together with a fraction of the budget, and far more nastiness, and she has to be a lot more resourceful. And though she is, there’s plenty of plot magic to help her out of a tight spot, like when she falls out of the bomber, and seems like she’s about to plummet to her doom.
She is saved by an occurrence so random and so unlikely that you’ll either stop watching entirely and curse the moviemakers and everyone else involved, or, if you’re like me on a Thursday night and you’ve had a few ciders, you’ll roll your eyes and think “that is some bullshit, now give me some more.”
The screenplay also often requires her to completely forget something that has just happened right in front of her eyes, in order to allow her time to deliver an impassioned speech or touching soliloquy, as if the gremlins and the Japanese pilots themselves are routinely saying to each other “Okay, hold up, hold up, she’s monologuing, better give them some time to appreciate her many words.”
There is actually an even more amazing storyline buried beneath all the premise and all the action that isn’t even hinted at before the revelation of “what’s in the package”, but I’m not going to spoil it, because it’s bonkers, and people need to go in cold if they’re going to go in at all.
It’s breathtaking in its chutzpah. Whether it works or not depends on whether you feel Moretz carries this flick, however ludicrous it might be, however strange in its beats and rhythms. I think she and the director do a pretty good job holding this all together, when it feels like it shouldn’t be working at all. I don’t feel bad for the other auxiliary characters, because most of them are awful, but I feel kind of bad for the actors, like the legendary Callan Mulvey, who played Drazic way, way back in the day in Heartbreak High, and now pretty much plays a villain for hire in almost any flick you have going. Here he’s the captain of the bomber, but once you get to see him, like with most of them, you know he’s going to die within seconds.
Shadow in the Cloud is the good kind of unserious trash that I enjoy watching on a Thursday night. It makes its claim that it’s honouring the women who helped out and fought in WWII in the Air Force on the Allied side, presumably (I’m pretty sure it’s not honouring the Nazi women who did their bit for the Reich and the Fatherland), but, come on. It’s great to see Chloe Grace Moretz fighting hard against all manner of man and beast, but the greater theme of female empowerment and such is utter bullshit considering what happens in the story and the very final image, which was sweet but, c’mon.
6 times this seems like a calling card, like a sizzle reel for both Moretz and Kiwi director Roseanne Liang to say they should be working for Marvel, and, you know what, let them have it out of 10
“You have no idea how far I’ll go!” – oh, the places you’ll go, in order to kill things and people - Shadow in the Cloud