Sometimes after a long hard day all you need is something to help you unwind. Movies are the perfect balm. Particularly stressful days often leave you looking for something light and breezy. Maybe something energetic and exciting. Even something a little bonkers. Light, breezy, and (most definitely) bonkers are all fitting descriptions for “Shadow in the Cloud”, the new action-horror film from Roseanne Liang.
Chloë Grace Moretz stars in this hard-to-categorize action/monster chamber piece that impresses early on with its nifty concept and unique approach to storytelling. Sadly it eventually runs out of gas even at a lean 83 minutes. And despite its noticeable efforts, the movie never quite gives you characters with any notable weight. Moretz is actually a nice fit and she has no shortage of grit and commitment. But she can only do so much, especially when given so many scenes that require little more from her than to grunt, scream, or sit quietly while she is berated and ridiculed by incessantly foul-mouthed and sexist men. Men who almost instantly devolve into hard-to-bear caricatures.
Set in World War II, Moretz plays Flight Officer Maude Garrett who boards a B-17 Flying Fortress as it’s about to take off from an airfield in New Zealand. She presents the surprised crew with paperwork giving her and her highly classified package safe passage. The crew doesn’t like it. It’s against protocol and after all she’s a “dame”. Unsure what to do but desperately needing to take off, the pilot orders Maude to be put in the gun turret on the plane’s belly. In the air Maude is greeted with all matter of misogynistic hostility, from straight-up sexual harassment to constantly questioning of her credentials (again, she’s just a “dame”). The only halfway compassionate voice comes from Staff Sergeant Walter Quaid (Taylor John Smith). The rest are for the most part dogs.
A big chunk of the first half is spent with Maude and the camera confined to the tight-quartered turret. During this long stretch we see no one other than Moretz. We only hear the voices of the pilot and crew members through the radio comms. On one hand it’s a bold choice from director Liang who keeps things interesting visually. Unfortunately the script gets stuck in one gear as the crew’s relentless abuse goes on and on and on. And of course when Maude spots a ghastly creature on the wing of the plane no one believes her until it’s too late. As the creature wrecks havoc with the engines, Japanese planes riddle the bomber’s hull with bullets. Meanwhile Maude fights to get out of the turret and to protect her package at all costs.
It all culminates in an action-filled final third that embraces the absurdity and tries to have fun with it. Sadly the baggage of the first half weighs it down. What models itself as a feminist power story loses a lot of its punch by essentially letting the misogynists off the hook. I won’t spoil it but let’s just say I was expecting some sort of reckoning. Instead all is forgotten (by the characters and the movie) and the crew along with their more than capable female plus-one fight for survival against man and beast.
Overall there is a swirl of fun ideas here that simply never come together. I liked the nuttiness of the concept and some of its audacious filmmaking choices. I’m always up for silly action-packed escapism. I think Moretz is quite good and should open some eyes with her performance. But “Shadow in the Cloud” is such an uneven film and it’s plagued by shallow characterizations which isn’t especially new for these kinds of movies. The problem is there aren’t enough thrills and excitement here to keep us from noticing, even when we turn our brains off. “Shadow in the Cloud” is now available on VOD.
VERDICT- 2 STARS