Directed by: Roseanne Liang. Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Belulah Koale. Runtime: 1h 23 min. Released: This film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 12, 2020.
We all have specific kinds of films we love where as soon as you hear the premise, you’re sold on it; and that for me are films set on planes. Whether it be thrillers (Red Eye, Flightplan) or terrorist situations (Air Force One, Non-Stop), I love the claustrophobia in them and the thrills. The claustrophobia and thrills, and then some, are brought to the skies in Roseanne Liang’s latest film, Shadow in the Cloud.
Chloë Grace Moretz plays WAAF officer Maude Garrett who has been given clearance from a higher-up official to get on a B-17 Fortress called the Fool’s Errand. She’s also clutching a radio bag that she dubs top-secret, and it seems that she’s transporting something important to help during war-time. Once in the air, Maude sees a “shadow in the cloud” as she tries to warn the crew members that there’s a stowaway on board, and they don’t believe her… At first.
While I adore plane thrillers, I also love horror in war, so this horror-thriller set 20,000 feet in the air was my most anticipated film of TIFF. I wouldn’t spoil what’s on board with them, but all I’ll say is that the design of it is awesome and if you’re expecting a creature feature in this situation, those expectations will be met. All that plane thriller, horror during war and creature feature combined, it makes for a very fun film. What I wasn’t expecting in this film was how well it brings the backdrop of the film of WWII into the story, especially when they’re attacked by enemy forces in the sky. That conflict adds an extra layer that keeps the story focused and brings some thrilling action into play, as well as the more horror-heavy moments.
Chloë Grace Moretz is the lead of the film but for a lot of it, your enjoyment of the film rests solely on her shoulders and she’s up to that task. She’s the only person on-screen for much of the film as once she’s on board, the crew members force her below deck in a ball turret because she’s a dame and they don’t want her up top with them. This is where a lot of the film’s claustrophobia comes from as she’s stuck in this turret, but the dialogue comes quick and compels as she’s able to talk with the others over radio comms as most are sexist towards her and make rude remarks and banter. It’s entertaining banter, though. Maude holds her own, telling them off at one point saying she has just as much experience as them, only to get laughed at.
Naturally, these scenes feel “radio” as we stay with Maude in the turret for this stretch, but director Roseanne Liang puts some interesting visuals to get around this – like when the crew members specifically introduce themselves over comms, Maude pictures them in her head and we see them look at the camera with some cool colour around them. When we have to see what’s happening up top, we do usually see it play out as how Maude would imagine it. Moretz is also equally as good when she’s allowed to get out of the turret and do other things, and there’s one sequence here that thrills. Even in the turret, she has some badass moments and the character keeps us invested.
The men themselves are solid – really only defined by their sexism and their roles in general – as they’re mostly there in voice. This is completely Moretz’ show, so they’re just there to complement the whole thing. The answer to what’s in the radio bag satisfies, too, and Liang chooses the right moments to reveal this secret and reveal character secrets in moments where things have calmed down with the force on-board and the enemy forces outside of the plane.
Liang is credited as the only writer on the IMDb’s page, as the original scribe is Max Landis and he is credited in a flash in the end credits. According to Moretz, the production has distanced itself from Landis and the script’s been re-written so much that he’s only on it in name. And truly, this really appears to be Liang’s voice as Maude is such a strong female character, and Liang handles the sexism thrown at Maude very well, and it’s also getting a female pilot in WWII to lead a story like this and imagining how they would have been treated, which seems like it’s portrayed accurately.
I loved other moments in her direction, especially the opening animation about a warning of staying focused while flying and another thing there that foreshadows the film. Flying over Auckland is also beautifully shot by Kit Fraser. The score, too, by Matt Jantzen (and the original score by Mahui Bridgman-Cooper) sounds great as it brings an ‘80s movie feel, just set in the 1940’s.
When the film has to go into its CGI moments, everything meshes well enough. That comes in the bigger action moments here, and while there are some totally campy and ridiculous moments in the finale, I loved them because it’s a Midnight Madness movie and they’re supposed to be crazy. It could get too schlocky for some, but I loved it. Moretz gets to showcase her action hero/final girl skills in great, and sometimes very funny, ways.