It’s really quite easy to take a quick glance at the digitally altered cover image of Shadow in the Cloud and come to a negative assumption of what this film is. After all, this cover image is a typical generic pose of the lead character (Chloë Grace Moretz) looking all tattered and standing in what is presumably some warzone. Now, if someone were to then tell you that over half of this film’s runtime is spent in an enclosed space that is roughly the size of a washing machine; I’d imagine anyone’s immediate response would be one of surprise. Note that down, because this unassuming action flick is full of these surprising quirks.
Within the first ten minutes Shadow in the Cloud begins pulling out unexpected visual, stylistic, and narrative choices from its mystery bag; speaking of, that’s really where this film begins — with a literal mystery bag. It all starts with a young woman named Maude (Chloë Grace Moretz) who has a simple task; jump aboard a military aircraft and get the top secret contents of her bag to the desired location. As mentioned, much of this film is in an enclosed space, we the viewer and Maude spend it within the confines of a ball turret positioned at the bottom of the B-17 aircraft. Picture the sit-in turrets that Luke and Han Solo operate on the Millennium Falcon. Within this enclosed ball turret we get to know and understand Maude and her intentions.
The bulk of this film’s character development is spent over radio chatter, like similarly confined films such as Pontypool (2008) or The Vast of Night (2019), we spend this time learning who the characters are and what makes them tick. Within this aircraft is a slew of rowdy soldiers that spend much of their time making aggressively suggestive remarks to Maude or spamming an endless barrage of wisecracks at one another. Not only does Maude have to deal with casual sexism and being berated for a long portion of her time aboard the aircraft, she’s also being stalked by a monster 10,000ft in the sky.
Chloë Grace Moretz provides more than enough on-screen presence to justify this confined narrative and it isn’t long before one feels at home within the conservatively sized cubby-hole. Then just as quickly as it happened, the film decides to shift gears and bring us into the outside world. It was at this point that Shadow in the Cloud moves from being a dialogue driven story to an almost full-bore action driven story. Another weird quirk.
Now, if there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that Shadow in the Cloud is not taking itself seriously, this is evidenced by the outlandish action sequences that are within the same calibre as Hobbs and Shaw (2019). I also had the pleasure of being introduced by the producers of this film and the director herself (Roseanne Liang) at the cinema I attended — make no mistake, she’s every bit as colorful as this film is weird and wacky. The cartoonish action is without a doubt very intentional; for better or worse, but in my view, for better.
What cannot go without mentioning is that this film places a large emphasis on sexism throughout the narrative; more specifically, the male characters throughout the film berating Maude in various ways. Roseanne Liang’s reworked screenplay cuts deep into the subject of harassment and “male banter”, attempting to highlight the pervasive toxicity it has and how it fundamentally prevents a productive dialogue between the characters. Liang hits more than she misses here, nailing the aggressive “boy-talk” between the soldiers and making the audience feel as uncomfortable as Maude does.
There also contains ample visual delights within this unpredictable narrative. A combination of loomy neon shots that “introduce” each character, trippy dreamlike visions, and scarce yet high quality CGI work all culminate in an overall high quality production. What struck me the most was the stellar hairstyling and costuming throughout, especially given the confined nature of this film, it gives one time to sit down and truly appreciate the fine detail that was put in.
Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper uses a range of synth and trance musical pieces which creates a funky musical score which captures the wacky scenes they are being played in. Shadow in the Cloud contained a range of keytar pieces which felt as though they were ripped straight from a 1980’s pulp movie. Even if this film was set during World War II the 80’s inspired score strangely didn’t feel out of place. In terms of sound design, it may not be as loud or authentic as Dunkirk (2018), but the creativity of the sound design throughout the film is definitely worth a mention. A hard thing to capture throughout War period films is the sound of the old fighter planes and the gun turrets that accompany them. This film had great utilization of the soundscape and surround sound audio, giving the sensation that one could almost feel the strain on the B-17 Bomber due to the rattling of the bolts and wires.
Shadow in the Cloud combines World War II, synthwave music, and horrific monsters together into one film. To say it’s having an identity crisis would be an understatement; however, its very lack of identity is also what makes it such an endearingly weird flick. This film is a controlled explosion of weirdness; I can respect that.