Maude Garrett (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a member of the British Airforce serving as a mechanic and impressive pilot whose made secret fly-by-night deliveries behind enemy lines for her superiors. Armed with an official document, a top-secret package in a radio bag, and her arm in a sling, Maude finds and boards the B-17 Flying Fortress labeled The Fool’s Errand. She’s immediately accosted by the various members of the crew who demand she get off their plane until she presents the captain/pilot with her official documentation from high up the military chain.
Maude is allowed to stay but is relegated to riding in the gunner bubble on the bottom of the plane while her mysterious package rides in the main compartment with Officer Quaid (Taylor John Smith). This gunner bubble is severely cramped and claustrophobic in addition to giving a 360-view of all that air she could fall through if the plane crashed. Once she gets her headset on to communicate with the crew, Maude is also subjected to the crude objectification of the men above talking smack about her – some sexual, some violent. The men belittle her and refuse to believe her piloting track record, laughing when she tries to stand up for herself and dress them down.
She earns a spark of respect after she spots and shoots down an enemy plane that snuck up behind them… but this newfound respect quickly vanishes when Maude spots and is attacked by a monstrous gremlin that’s meticulously trying to fell the plane – and they don’t believe her for a second. On top of that, secrets come out that reveal not everyone onboard is as they seem.
Shadow in the Cloud was originally written by Max Landis (Bright, Chronicle). I read his original script back around the time it was originally sold – which was before the scandal surrounding him with the multiple allegations of sexual abuse. I thought that script was totally badass and a fun read, albeit a bit on the short side at only 72 pages.
Director Roseanne Liang (known mostly for shorts as this is her first feature film) did extensive enough rewrites on Landis’ script to warrant a shared writer credit – a feat that WGA guidelines specify require changing at least 1/3 of the material. She beefed up the dialogue and added a few extra action scenes. And considering she and her crew couldn’t physically shoot on a set – most of the film was shot in a parking long in a shipping container (ain’t insider info grand?) – I think she did a great job.
Chloe Grace Moretz shines in this as we spend about 75% of the movie inside the tiny plexiglass bubble with her. That should come as no surprise as she’s usually a stellar performer, especially when she’s in serious roles like this (I’m not especially looking forward to the upcoming Tom & Jerry animation/live action hybrid, despite her having a starring role). Here, Moretz isn’t just a Hitgirl-like badass, but also emotional and fragile at times. It’s got to be hard playing off your costars when they’re literally nowhere to be seen – for the most part the rest of the cast is voice acting filtered through a set of headphones.
The action is intense and thrilling – although in one spot laughably unrealistic. The suspense will have you on the edge of your seat waiting to see what’s next.
There were very few things I didn’t like about this movie, but I’ll give them as spoiler-free as I can.
Physics becomes a little unrealistic in a certain action sequence near the end of the film. It draws an unintentional laugh, but it’s still cool to look at.
There’s a scene near the beginning when the crew of the plane introduce themselves over the coms. In Maude’s mind, we see them each appear over black with weird red/green lighting that looks like a bad high school play. We see this happen again near the end when she’s imagining the visuals for things we can hear but not see. I didn’t like the look of these imagination scenes, and felt they were the one true misstep in Liang’s approach.
There were two spots – once in the opening scene and once in the closing scene – where the CGI looks absolutely awful for a couple seconds. In both instances, it took me out of the film briefly.
Issues aside, Shadow in the Cloud is an enjoyable and unique thrill ride that isn’t afraid to address controversial issues head on. I understand there might be a stigma around it thanks to the guy who wrote the original script, but don’t let that stand in the way of having a good time with this original and totally enjoyable 83-min slice of sci-fi action. This is very much Roseanne Liang’s film, and a very impressive debut from a promising filmmaker. It did, after all, win the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival… so give it a chance!