Review: 'Shadow In The Cloud' (2021) Dir. Roseanne Liang
Based on the old World War II notion of "Gremlins" that sabotage plane controls, this takes the idea up a notch for a wartime action-cum-fantasy set thousands of feet above the ground...
1943; the height of US involvement during World War II. Flight Officer Maude Garrett (Moretz) is tasked with accompanying top secret package from Auckland, New Zealand, to Samoa.
Garret is flying in a B-17 bomber, named "Fool's Errand", with a flight crew including Staff Sergeant Walter Quaid (Smith) and Flight Lieutenant Anton Williams (Koale), who initially aren't too welcoming to a female officer.
But a hostile crew is the least of Garret's worries. As well as the threat of the Japanese air force, a devilish Gremlin emerges and starts to tear apart the plane, threatening Garret's entire mission...
A tongue-in-cheek propaganda cartoon followed by atmospheric shots of Chloë Grace Moretz suiting up with her Webley pistol, bomber jacket and a mission brief written out on a typewriter sets the tone for the World War 2 set action / fantasy. Accompanied by a brooding synthetic score by Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper and some impressive visual effects for the flight, director Roseanne Liang injects a real sense of grandeur into such simple proceedings.
A toe-curling introduction to the position of women in the air force is played out brilliantly by Moretz over the radio with the men in her flight crew trapped in the confides of a gun turret. Subjected to nothing but verbal sexual intimidation and patronising comments, Liang makes it very evident that while this is a period fantasy, it also is laced in reality with the place of serving women and their roles in fighting alongside men. In that respect, Liang presents a really authentic looking and sounding war aviation setup with claustrophobic sets within the mighty bomber, all the correct phrasing and plenty of diegetic sounds from the plane and stormy weather it flies in.
Moretz carries the film, evident by the opening hour that is pretty much her stuck inside a claustrophobic gun turret battling with a sexist crew, never backing down from her duty.
In fact, thanks to Moretz nailing the role and the immersive story, you'd forget anything about the Gremlin (more of a bat/rat/demon than anything you think of related to Joe Dante's 1984 comedy!) as the creature only teases it's appearance now and then in between the drama inside the plane. For the first half it's aviation warfare, and then the Gremlin makes it's play during the second and proves to be more of a threat than the circling Japanese enemy in the cloudy skies. As it starts to pull apart the circuits, the mechanics and the controls around the mighty bomber, Moretz seems to be the only one with the focus, the grit and the confidence to take it on as well as her hostile crew.
It's not just the Gremlin and the threat of war that hooks you, but also just what is in the mysterious package that Moretz is sworn to protect and accompany to its final destination that really throws a curveball into proceedings and helps add some depth to the characters on his journey. And with the novel notion of never really seeing the flight crew, just hearing them mostly over the radio coms talking to Garrett, it proves that what you hear is just as powerful as what you see and makes you as a viewer take everything in which what is thrown at you.
The final act of this intense three part narrative never sacrifices the humanity behind the story in a few moments that are a little out there, but still find the ability to be tense and emotive thanks again to Mortez putting herself right in the thick of the action and finally seeing our flight crew pulling together in the face of the enemy.
It's a little bonkers in the the final act, but it's never afraid to acknowledge that this is a simple B-movie wartime flick that still retains it's authenticity and atmosphere. A solid performance by Moretz and an equally solid first half do wonders.
A real character story for Chloë Grace Moretz where the action and fantasy always comes second to the immersive war-time story and set-pieces.
'Shadow In The Cloud' is a co-production between Automatik, Four Knights Film, Endeavor Content, Rhea Films, New Zealand Film Commission, Fulcrum Media Finance and Screen Auckland