During the Second World War, Chloë Grace Moretz has to deal with a sinister figure and no less frustrating men: SHADOW IN THE CLOUD mixes pulp with social commentary. We’ll tell you whether this experiment succeeds.
OT: Shadow in the Cloud (NZL/USA 2020)
August 1943 in New Zealand: Flight Officer Maude Garrett (Chloë Grace Moretz) has the mission to join a last-minute fighter plane that is making the journey from Auckland to Samoa. But Maude and her top-secret luggage don’t exactly receive a warm welcome from the all-male crew: When the testosterone bolters don’t question Maude’s loyalty to the Allies and grill her about her delivery, contrary to orders, then they make fun of her – and make fun of her her vulgar offers in the same breath. As if that wasn’t enough of a burden, the plane turns out to be in bad shape – and only Maude realizes this. When the enemy appears on the horizon and a strange creature attacks Maude, which the men on board don’t want to admit, it can’t be denied any further: this flight becomes a real fight for survival for Maude…
During the Second World War, US soldiers and technicians liked to blame any defects in their equipment and the resulting accidents on gremlins. For a few it was a superstition that they stood behind with conviction; for many it was just a joking, silly way of shrugging off responsibility. This is comparable to the “declaration” that is widespread in parts of United Kingdom that it was not you who knocked over a glass, left the stove on or did something similar – “no, that was the Holy Spirit”. The Gremlins were popularized (and made known on the home front) by a Disney children’s book by “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” author Roald Dahl, which was intended to serve as the basis for an animated film (ultimately never realized), and by Disney’s competitor Warner Bros. : In September 1943, in the immensely popular cartoon “Falling Hare,” Bugs Bunny dueled a small, destructive goon who wreaked havoc on an Air Force base and in U.S. fighter planes. During World War II, Warner also produced an entire cartoon training series called “Private Snafu,” in which a bulbous-nosed, slightly stocky private makes a lot of mistakes that the drafted audience should avoid by learning from his mistakes.
The camera work in “Shadow in the Cloud” is impressive.
“Shadow in the Cloud” draws charmingly on these cartoons: director Roseanne Liang (“My Wedding and other Secrets”) The opening credits are preceded by a fake supporting film that looks like an ultra-concentrated “Private Snafu” short film, in which a gremlin is also causing mischief. Liang so entertainingly and efficiently sets the stage for her mix of genres, through which there is a noticeable reverence and gratitude for the women who served in World War II – only to be forgotten by history. So much so that these days uninformed types on the internet babble about historical incorrectness whenever women in military service during the 1940s are shown (or, in the case of “Dunkirk,” demanded by some critics). Therefore, this film can also be seen as a fight against this. With references to cartoons, pin-ups and stylistics of the time, the director and author in “Shadow in the Cloud” sends the “Bad Neighbors 2” star Chloë Grace Moretz as a resolute flight officer on a mission in which failing technology and… Enemy aircraft lurking in the airspace, yes, even the fear of a monster pales in terms of nuisance and threat in front of the chauvinism that surrounds it.
“Liang so entertainingly and efficiently sets the stage for her mix of genres, through which there is a palpable reverence and gratitude for the women who served in World War II – only to be forgotten by history.”
Liang and her cameraman Kit Fraser (“Under the Shadow”) stylize the first act of “Shadow in the Cloud” as discreetly as it is consistent: When Maude sits alone in the gun cabin, we occasionally look into her head, where in her mind’s eye she imagines the face of the voice that can be heard over the radio – in front of a rich black one background, with dominant shadows and reddish and greenish neon lights ominously framing their faces. The lighting in the gun cabin also ignores realism, instead showing Moretz in images that are much more contrasting and saturated in color than is logically possible from a night flight in this position. Given the choice of colors, this gives the film a slightly “pulpy” feel, bringing back memories of dime novel covers or films with dime novel logic – and at the same time allows us to see more of Moretz’s facial expressions, which are in this claustrophobic Setting rousingly fluctuates between anger, frustration, panic, doggedness and the heroic gathering of courage.
Will Flight Officer Maude Garrett (Chloë Grace Moretz) find her true love?
This 80s retro pulp influence is also carried through acoustically: the score by Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper (“Housebound”) relies on a dense wall of atmospheric synth basic mood, over which additional synth levels are accentuated, which have more of a new wave dynamic and stand out clearly from the tense basic sound mood. This clash of a neatly dressed-up 40s aesthetic (Moretz’s hairstyle and flight jacket fit so perfectly, as if it had come straight out of a US WWII propaganda poster) and a throwback 80s B-movie is carried out very skillfully by Liang for a long time . She combines the temporal setting with her thematic approach (modern, self-confident feminism meets the edginess of 80s B-movies with a message). It is this opening that makes “Shadow in the Cloud” a kind of cinematic relative of “The Vastness of the Night” and makes you want a double feature of both films. In his directorial debut, released on Amazon Prime in 2020, Andrew Patterson fuses stylistic elements from the 1950s, 1980s and today into a nostalgic-modern sci-fi mystery in which the camera simply rests on the main characters for a long time. However, as soon as Liang abandons the initial, prominent claustrophobic element, her film begins to falter on a directorial level.
“Moretz’s hairstyle and flight jacket fit so perfectly, as if they were taken from a US WWII propaganda poster.”
Digitally deliberately unrounded image compositions in the middle section do not evoke (the probably intended) memories of jerky rear projections in films of the 1940s, but rather fall into a no-man’s land between “Not convincing as intended to be real” and “Not stylized enough to please as deliberately artificial”. And at the script level, the film also moves into a gray area: a passage reminiscent of “Alien” (which Liang confirmed as one of many inspirations), in which the tension is based on how the male crew responds to danger, inevitably falls flat. The characters had previously become too unsympathetic with their constant verbal barrage of racist and misogynistic comments to be concerned about them. At the same time, the “cannon fodder has to believe in it” joy is low because Moretz’s character is always too close to the threat in the middle part and Liang doesn’t stage the bloody passages nearly as rousingly as the suspense-based first act.
Headfirst into the unknown: “Shadow in the Cloud” is good for many a surprise.
Fortunately, the film gets back on track in the final third, when Liang shifts the focus away from the male supporting characters and does a small, snazzy girl-power homage to an Arnold Schwarzenegger classic. Certainly: The arc that Liang draws (from the chamber play-like opening full of suspense to the action-packed finale, which pursues a wish-fulfilling tonality) is twisted and will certainly alienate some film fans who would have preferred to stick with the initial pace – and are missing due to the unsteady middle part she has enough pulling power to simply pull the audience along her path without being asked. Nevertheless (thanks to the successful conclusion) it is a conceptually coherent change that befits the main character. It is therefore a shame that “Shadow in the Cloud” in the USA has been so enormously reduced to the participation of Max Landis. Allegations of sexual coercion and abusive behavior that had received little media attention have been circulating about the “Chronicle” screenwriter for several years. In the spring of 2019 (shortly after the start of the “Shadow in the Cloud” production process, before filming began), eight women made concrete statements , more hearing allegations of emotional and physical abuse. Landis was also accused of rape. The fact that someone like that is listed as the author of a feminist film was continually held against Liang’s directorial work.
Only a few people were interested in the fact that, according to Liang, Landis was not involved in the production process, but that “Shadow in the Cloud” was simply based on an older, 70-page draft of his script, which she intensively revised and expanded. The reputation of “Shadow in the Cloud” was ruined – which means Moretz now has two films on her resume that fell into disrepute because of an abusive man (the other: “I Love You, Daddy” by Louis CK). Please do not misunderstand: Feeling disgust towards Landis is completely understandable given the serious allegations. But is it really fair to tarnish Liang’s work, who, after the allegations against Landis became public, campaigned for him to be removed from the project as a producer and who also revised the script again with the aim of removing him thus also disqualifying you from screenplay credit in the credits (even if the writers’ union decided that Landis should continue to be credited)? Against this background, the question arises as to whether Moretz and Liang had certain ulterior motives when filming the finale and were cathartically venting their anger and disgust. But they certainly won’t reveal the answer to that any time soon…
“Is it really fair for the Landis controversy to tarnish Liang’s work, who, after the allegations emerged, campaigned for him to be removed as a producer from the project and who also reworked the script with the “The aim is to disqualify him for the screenplay credit in the credits?”
Conclusion: “Shadow in the Cloud” is a successful genre mishmash that has greater ambitions than director Roseanne Liang manages to implement. Nevertheless, the clash of 40s and 80s aesthetics as well as 80s and contemporary tonality is an entertaining adventure with Chloë Grace Moretz once again giving a powerful performance.
“Shadow in the Cloud” is available now on VOD and on DVD and Blu-ray Disc from April 24th.