While WWII is a popular era for horror films, with perhaps the greatest example being the surprisingly good 2018 film Overlord [read my review], it’s usually because Nazis are such easy bad guys and such a lazy source of monster makers. The new film Shadow in the Cloud, however, runs with an entirely different evil; conscience and morality, as embodied not in a cute cricket – sorry Pinocchio! – but in a malevolent gremlin. Structured more like a stage play, the film revolves around tough, savvy survivor Maude Garrett (Chloe Grace Moretz), who bluffs her way aboard a B-17 bomber flying from Auckland, New Zealand to the tiny island of Samoa. The crew aren’t happy about this last minute addition, but she has orders from the base commander and none are willing to outright refuse her joining them on the flight.
Garrett is carrying a small travel case that emits a bright light when opened, and it’s her mission to get those documents, or whatever it is, to Samoa. In fact, as she tells the crew, the contents of that case are more important than any of them are, and it cannot be opened under any circumstances. Crew member Quaid (Taylor John Smith), eventually recognizes that Garrett is actually quite savvy to the inner workings of a B17 and everything else military, but it doesn’t diminish the simmering resentment and crass chauvinistic bullying of the otherwise all male crew. Imagine the worst possible group of neanderthal men trying their best to be maximally offensive and you’ll get a sense of the oft-painful dialog.
In fact, the dialog is so over the top that it’s one of the factors that hurts the film and adversely impacts the viewing experience. None of the men in the film are other than appalling and even in the 1940’s, during the war, it’s hard to believe that every single man would be so excessively offensive and rude. So-called locker room talk without any women present? Maybe, to some extent, but as with so much in Shadow in the Cloud, the dialog is offensively over the top.
Meanwhile, Garrett finds herself trapped in the ball turret of the B17, which gives her a unique vantage point of everything below and underneath the big bomber as it flies through a nighttime storm. When she reports shadowy glimpses of enemy planes, the crew laugh and insist that it’s impossible. When she then sees that malevolent gremlin creature on the wing – shades of The Twilight Zone – she doesn’t even bother sharing the information with the crew. Eventually, however, it’s clear: The gremlin is after the contents of her mysterious case and she’s not having it, even if she has to resort to grappling with the monster, mano-a-claw, to prevent it.
Then it all gets even more weird. At one point Garrett opens the door to the ball turret (a spherical gun turret mounted on the bottom of the bomber) and uses handholds on the underside of the plane to climb into a hole on the wing. While it’s flying at a few hundred miles an hour and being shot at by enemy fighters. And that’s not the most unlikely moment in this shamelessly nutty horror film. Written by Max Landis (Chronicle, Bright, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency) and directed by newcomer Roseanne Liang, Shadow in the Cloud is really a one woman show focused on Chloe Grace Moretz, and she mostly delivers an engaging performance.
The gremlin, her back story, the acceptable albeit budget Weta Digital visual effects, they all work together as a fun “B” horror film. The problem is the dialog and relentlessly negative view of men in the film. There’s no redemption, none of the crew ever realize she’s capable of helping keep them alive on the flight, and she’s laughably expert on everything she encounters, from mechanical nuances of the B-17 design to hand-to-hand combat with a malevolent evil creature. Are horror films supposed to be realistic and believable? No. But if the protagonist is so extraordinarily capable, what’s the challenge to overcome?
Having said all of that, Shadow in the Cloud can be entertaining if, like many B movies, you can silence your inner critic and just watch it for what it is; a fun, silly, over the top horror adventure centering on a woman who might just have a secret or two that contribute to the chaos of the journey.
Dad At The Movies Note: The endless comments and crude language of the crew towards Garrett makes this a potentially problematic film for younger viewers. The fact that the men never apologize, feel no remorse for their crudeness, and that it’s portrayed as just how men behave can ostensibly open up a discussion with your teens, but if your teens watch this, it’ll be without you anyway. It’s like the worst of juvenile gamer boys anonymously snarking about girls. Because of that, I don’t recommended it for kids, and definitely not for the pre-teens in the house.