Shadow in the Cloud was initially overshadowed by controversy after its association with a script by industry-renowned alleged abuser Max Landis, but writer-director Roseanne Liang eventually rewrote the film with other female crewmembers — therefore downplaying his involvement in the project. At the risk of spoilers, it’s clear that although this is a World War II horror-thriller, it is essentially about motherhood and the extreme (albeit cheesy) lengths that one would endure to project their child.
We are introduced to flight officer Garrett, played by Chloë Grace Moretz, carrying a mysterious leather-bound package and an officially issued order to transport her and said package among an all-men flight crew. She is faced with crude and demeaning feedback as a woman whose credibility as an officer is vehemently challenged. Eventually, they relegate her to the turret where she is out of sight and out of mind. In the first half of the film, we join Garret in a claustrophobic, tight-shot hour or so where she is locked in the turret and left alone to both worry about the safety of her package and the mythical ‘gremlin’ of World War II lore that is attempting to sabotage the plane.
It is extremely reminiscent of the John Lithgow rendition of the classic Twilight Zone horror tale “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” but more gruesome and helpless. Garrett’s only connection to the men above her is through an intercom. This solely audio scenario adds to the oppressive and vulnerable atmosphere that she is stuck in for a majority of the film. This first act glistens with new forms of storytelling, and director Liang demonstrates the care needed when focusing in on a strong-willed female protagonist. The men become dissonant voices only adding to her panic rather than providing guidance as she not only has to fend off Japanese oppositional forces, but also the strange creature tormenting her small bubble underneath the plane.
The score evokes a similarity to the droning sounds of Stranger Things, and there is a section of the film which introduces each of the men on the plane through neon-bathed, shadowy close-ups with the individual invocation of their names. But, while this was admirable, right at the climax of the film in which the contents of Garrett’s package and her backstory are revealed and the consequential events thereafter, the film takes a dive into the uncanny in the worst of ways.
All of the carefully crafted tension built by Moretz’s emotional performance as the resolute and innovative Garrett and the hard crackles of the intercom with each frantic, terrified call to the men above for some assistance, is crumbled by the comically impossible physics of the film. In addition to this, the isolated intercom audios get exhausting as some major performances are wasted until Garrett rejoins them physically in the latter half of the film. This includes one of the top-billed names in the film, Nick Robinson, who plays the young and air-headed Beckell. The last act of Shadow in the Cloud seems to forget the sleek maturity that it had set itself up for in the early portion of the film.
It’s tempting to spoil the deliciously absurd ending ‘battle’ scene that Garrett engages in, but the insanity of it is worthy of witnessing with your own eyes regardless of the lack of engaging content that the film features in its final half hour. You should still take part in the great fun that is Shadow in the Cloud, but don’t expect it to maintain its weight throughout. At the end of the day, what could have been a genre-changing classic ends up taking itself as a joke.