2021 has finally arrived, and with the new year comes a new year of film. Here we have the first movie release of the year, and it is…weird?
From co-writer and director Roseanne Liang comes Shadow in the Cloud, an action-horror flick about a female World War II pilot in 1943 who boards a B-17 Flying Fortress who must break the glass ceiling to fend off a gremlin on the aircraft.
This movie premiered at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival and is getting a premium VOD release today. And I’m proud to say this is a campy, 83-minute feminist thriller that knows exactly what it is. It’s an aggressively simple movie that, for the most part, provides brilliant escapist entertainment.
The opening act does a great job of setting up the protagonist and her adversaries. Maude Garrett is a pilot and a flight mechanic, portrayed by Chloë Grace Moretz, donning her best English accent. She has a package with confidential contents, and the male crew sends her down to the ball turret.
Much of the first two acts occur in this small area, allowing for a very claustrophobic thriller as Maude showcases her resourcefulness using a piece of cloth to patch up a hole in her tiny space and then later use it to fix an injury.
During these thrilling scenes, we are pulled to the screen by Moretz’s fantastic performance, as she sells her fear, agony, and the stress of her situation, as she sees a creature onboard and battles enemy pilots. It’s an exciting setpiece that throws many obstacles in her way.
However, much of the film’s flaws exist within the first two acts as well. Every other character in this movie is nothing but an insufferable misogynist, and Maude finds herself attacked with sexually inappropriate dialogue and men doubting and objectifying her at every turn.
While Liang does a great job of putting us in Maude's shoes and making her feel alone in her situation, the overt sexism and lack of judgment from every other character eventually become unrealistic, straining the credibility of the situation.
Although men were very sexist and gross towards women during this time, it eventually feels as if the male characters are physically incapable of saying anything non-discriminatory against women. The terrible attitudes of nearly every character can become tiring and on-the-nose after a while.
But luckily, the movie kicks into full gear in its final act, when we discover what is in the package Maude is trying to protect, and we finally get a peek into her backstory and what is motivating her to do what she does. Soon after, the movie transforms into something else.
If the first two acts of the movie were the quiet tension of Alien, the final act is the loud, bombastic action of Aliens, and this is where the movie goes from being a nice, claustrophobic thriller to a completely absurd series of explosions and crashes that make no sense at all.
Maude goes into full action heroine mode in a thrilling, unbelievable sequence where she crawls around the outside of the aircraft, and a conveniently timed explosion doesn’t kill her, but in fact, saves her life. The final act defies so many laws of physics that not even the Fast & Furious films would dare to go where this movie goes.
This is where the film finds itself at the mercy of audiences. If you’re the type of viewer who scrutinizes every single thing in a movie that doesn’t make logical sense, you will hate this movie. However, if you’re like me and you don’t mind ridiculous action scenes that don’t make an iota of sense, you’ll have fun with this.
Liang has crafted a film that has “guilty pleasure” written all over it. The character development is minimal, and the story is simple. Still, the action is so incredibly stupid that it’s difficult not to have fun, especially as the movie ends with a kung fu brawl straight out of a John Woo film.
This movie is not high art; I’d argue it’s the lowest of the low art. But it is art, and it is aggressively silly. It’s a feminist popcorn movie that can be a bit loud with its messaging initially but finds its footing near the end with what we want to see: pulpy, schlocky, idiotic fun.
Grade: ★★★☆☆ [6/10, C+]
Rating: R for language throughout, sexual references, and violence