AFI FEST 2020: Shadow in the Cloud Review – A Nightmare on the Senses

Shadow in the Cloud

It’s easy to describe Shadow in the Cloud is an insane film. It’s also best described as a mixture between The Twilight Zone‘s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and Ridley Scott’s Alien. Unfortunately, as amazing as that sounds, the end result does not quite meet up to these expectations. There are so many things that could’ve gone wrong with this film, and the filmmakers managed to hit every single one of them. Shadow in the Cloud follows Maude Garrett (Chloë Grace Moretz), a World War II ace pilot who boards a B17 plane with a top-secret case. Once aboard, she faces hostility from the crew of “The Fool’s Errand,” and is immediately cast aside to the ball turret of the heavy bomber.

About half of the film takes place in this one location. The claustrophobia of her confined space and interacting with the other crew members through the radio is such a brilliant idea. It feels so much like a thriller with a lot of intrigue surrounding her and her mission. Not to mention, Maude is getting attacked from all sides, so her survival solely depends on her skill and smarts in this confined space.

Although it’s such an artistic way to start a World War II monster film, writer/director Roseanne Liang’s script (based on Max Landis’ original script) goes hard at critiquing the open male chauvinism of the era. It’s a worthy critique, but unfortunately, one that lacks any subtle nuance. As they say, “give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” In other words, if you’re trying to preach a message then the audience must figure it out themselves rather than have it be given to them on a silver platter.

Unfortunately, this means that Shadow in the Cloud is full of unlikeable characters who yell, curse, and talk about how much they repeatedly want to have sex with Maude. The film might’ve benefitted better if they could’ve just eased up a bit, but unfortunately, they don’t. So these uncomfortable moments become painful to listen to for almost half the film. The dialogue is full of cheesy clichés and awkward conversations that severely undermine any potential tense and dramatic moments for these characters later on.

Shadow in the Cloud - Chloë Grace Moretz

Sadly, the other problem with the film is that they reveal the creature too early. As a result, there is no mystery behind the gremlin’s presence on the plane, which leaves the film without the urgency it needs to progress it forward. Not to mention, the film takes a turn for the worse once Maude finally leaves that ball turret. All artistic ingenuity that occurred in the first half of the film is gone by the time the madness begins.

At this point, the film stops being a claustrophobic World War II monster thriller and becomes a generic survival film with much lower stakes. It becomes so messy to the point where the whole film becomes laughable. So prepare yourself to suspend disbelief — by a lot. It’s a shame, though, since Chloë Grace Moretz’s performance carries the film with such ferocity and energy.

Her solo act in that ball turret is so impressive to see. She puts forth a colossal effort to carry the film despite a lack of content to work with. Not only is she acting against no one but she’s doing it against a green screen backdrop. Although the film is an absolute mess, her performance in Shadow showcases her many talents.

Overall, Shadow in the Cloud is a film that looks good on paper, but its execution doesn’t reach the level of its concept. Unfortunately for Chloë Grace Moretz, her stellar performance is wasted by the consistent missteps of the film. 

Rating: 2.5/5 atoms

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