Shadow in the Cloud: Deliriously Dopey Genre Fun (AFI Fest Review)
Shadow in the Cloud ’s over-the-top genre thrills are elevated by a commanding performance from Chloe Grace Moretz.
Ah the festival midnight movie – the special place for genre material that’s not afraid to get a little bit ridiculous. And, oh boy, Shadow in the Cloud is some sort of lunacy in the very best way. The film kicks off with a delightful animated PSA inspired by what may have run in a 40s movie theater. A World War II pilot is tormented by villainous gremlins who wreak havoc on his airplane. It’s a quaint way to immerse the viewer in the film’s slightly goofy tone and to get the snickers over the filmic presence of actual gremlins out of the way early.
We jump then to a young woman carrying a MacGuffin box on an airfield. The woman, played with steely intensity by Chloe Grace Moretz (Let Me In), seeks a particular airfield. Director Roseanne Liang presents the airfield as a gothic steampunk hellscape and the film’s design is suffused with wonderfully hokey period details. Moretz looks the part of a 40s screen star and carries herself with a swagger derived from the Sigourney Weaver school of badass heroines. As she finds her intended cargo plane and boards the plane just before takeoff, the squadron is appalled to have a woman on board. They, of course, question the provenance of the orders for the secret mission that brings her to the plane.
And so Moretz’s character finds herself trapped in the bomber’s sperry turret – the glass bottom gunner port makes for a harrowing atmosphere for what will be, at least in part, a trapped environment movie – while the men above debate how to handle her. Moretz is able to listen in as the men above banter about her attractiveness and their skepticism about her mission. Their “locker room talk” is vividly graphic, and Moretz gamely handles the radio banter back and forth with the toxic men who have trapped her.
The gunner turret holding Moretz makes for a far more visually dynamic atmosphere for a trapped environment than most of the genre can muster. Eventually, of course, the teased gremlins make their appearance – vile winged bat-like creatures crafted largely through practical effects. The mixture of creatures on the plane’s outside, Japanese Zeros in the clouds, and the dizzying drop to the ground below makes for an exciting landscape for Moretz to act against. Moretz is, as always, a captivating screen presence. Paired with little more than green screen and a radio, she manages to make a significant stretch made up on little more than a camera on her face captivating.
Eventually the artifice of the trapped environment disappears – alongside a truly bonkers plot twist – and Moretz is freed to return to the airplane above. The action takes on a frenetic pace as Zeroes and gremlins simultaneously attack. Liang gleefully disregards any semblance of realism or physics as she cranks up the film’s action sequences to 11. I hesitate to spoil any of the hilarious insanity, but there is immense genre joy to find here. It’s the sort of thing that would send many a midnight audience into spasms of applause.
With a film like this, you have to ask yourself if the term “midnight movie” appeals to you. If you want a serious drama about women in the war or cargo pilots in the Pacific Theater? Look elsewhere. Does a fully over-the-top combination of Aliens and Phone Booth seem like it might hit the sweet spot for you? Shadow in the Cloud is probably your jam.
Shadow in the Cloud premiered at the AFI Fest on October 17, 2020, and will open in select US cinemas & on VOD & Digital January 1, 2021.
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