Shadow in the Cloud is a movie about a gremlin. Not the ones from Joe Dante’s movie, but the creatures that have plagued airmen since the 1920s. They’ve turned up occasionally on the screen, most notably menacing William Shatner, (and later John Lithgow), in The Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and handing Bugs Bunny one of his few defeats in the wartime cartoon “Falling Hare”.
This is however the first time they’ve been the subject of a feature film. I suppose it’s somewhat fitting that the film suffered its own saboteur in the form of the original writer and producer Max Landis and the numerous, if unproven, charges of misogyny and abuse against him. Those allegations resulted in delays as director Roseanne Liang doing several rewrites to the script in an attempt to distance it from him. How much of the final film reflects his work is anyone’s guess.
WWAF officer Maude Garrett (Chloë Grace Moretz, Suspiria, Kick-Ass) is ordered to catch a ride on the aptly named Fool’s Errand, a B-17 flying from New Zealand to Samoa in 1943. Her mission, and the contents of the box she carries, are classified. This does not sit well with the all-male crew, especially Captain Reeves (Callan Mulvey, Kill Me Three Times, Beyond Skyline) who initially orders her off the plane before seeing her orders. Forced to take her, he has her dumped into the craft’s belly turret and takes off.
It doesn’t take long before Garrett sees two things that make matters worse. A Japanese warplane stalking them, and a strange creature crawling around on the craft.
The first hour of Shadow in the Cloud is a tense and claustrophobic showcase for Moretz. Alone in the turret with only voices on the intercom to respond to she has to carry the film alone. Those voices being at times as hostile as the gremlin only adds to the tenseness of the situation.
While I doubt WWII airmen were exactly paragons of virtue, the depth and extent of the misogyny they, with the exception of Quaid (Taylor John Smith, Martyrs, Hunter Killer), express seem a bit much. I’m sure this aspect of the script was ratcheted up during the re-writes as part of the attempt to distance the film from its original writer but it’s been taken to a level where it’s annoying rather than making a point.
The last half hour or so sees Shadow in the Cloud go in the opposite direction. It becomes a survival horror film with some action scenes that are as ridiculous as they are fun. The primary example being Garrett crawling across the outside of the plane while it’s being attacked by Japanese fighters.
The shift in tone is a bit abrupt and jarring, but after the build-up of the film’s first half, I was ready for it to let loose. And it does, ending with a burst of action that is the payoff the film needs. And watching our heroine go all Ripley on the bat-like gremlin is quite satisfying. I actually wish Shadow in the Cloud had spent a bit more time on this part of the plot and more of the creature.
The score by Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper (Housebound, The Legend of Baron To’a) is great to listen to and is effective in some scenes. On the other, its synth sounds clash, at times noticeably, with the film’s setting. I was also pleased to hear a bit of Kate Bush’s “Ther Hounds of Love” over footage of female aviators as the credits are about to roll.
An enjoyable, if slightly schizophrenic and occasionally heavy-handed film, Shadow in the Cloud is available to stream from Vertical Entertainment.