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Roseanne Liang Shadow in the Cloud Review


Shadow in the Cloud | Review

Shadow in the Cloud | Review

A Face in the Cloud: Liang Cruises on Kooky with WWII Sci-Fi

shadow-in-the-cloud-posterThere’s something to be said for a bonkers mishmash of genre tones and subtexts, and Shadow in the Cloud, an unexpected and unpredictably zany feature from Roseanne Liang, is one such breathless example of playfulness which oscillates between train wreck and innovation. Unfortunately more of a mixed bag of tricks in which the sum doesn’t eventually capitalize on the promise of all its parts, it’s still a fun, albeit messy splurge of ideas which could have benefitted from embracing the nuttiness from frame one. Even as it nosedives into some distractingly silly territory which can’t even be calibrated for camp, it’s a film which feels like the making of a small cult blip for Liang whose previous features focused on more autobiographical experiences of unique Asian-Antipodean perspectives.

Auckland Air Force Base, 1943. WWAF officer Maude Garrett (Chloë Grace Moretz), a member of one of many women’s auxiliaries who ferried planes during WWII, is assigned to board a B-17 Flying Fortress transporting a mysterious, top-secret package. Needing to get off the ground and without time to question her assignment, the ornery Captain Reeves (Callan Mulvey) allows her to board, storing her in the turret, located on the underbelly of the plane. The care of her precious package is volunteered to the sole friendly face (Taylor John Smith), while the rest of the all-male crew is downright resentful of her, proved by the constant barrage of disparaging statements and misogynist tendencies reflected in their radio chatter. But from Maude’s viewpoint, she can see a terrifying creature crawling in and out of the fuselage, while it appears their plane is being tailed by enemy forces as well.

To its credit, Shadow in the Cloud navigated some rough weather patterns as a project, an original script from the fallen star of Max Landis providing an impetus with which both director and star have vocally distanced themselves from in a concept so apparently ‘re-worked’ the original scribe has been scrubbed completely from the credits. While there’s arguably an inherent benefit for this material, especially considering its perspective, to be recalibrated through the perspective and ownership of women, the Landis stamp hasn’t been completely erased because the narrative very clearly pays homage to distinct aspects of 1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie, mostly for the final chapter of the omnibus “Nightmare at 20,000 feet” in which John Lithgow’s distressed plane passenger is the only one to see a long-haired extraterrestrial dismantle an airplane’s engines from the wing during flight. Of course, George Miller was responsible for that particular segment of the film, but John Landis was one of the other director’s and his segment “Time Out” found Anti-Semitic rube Vic Morrow (who infamously was killed in a prop accident on set) transported to Nazi era Germany for victimization by the Third Reich.

A similar essence of ‘just desserts’ applies to the antagonists of WAAF officer Maude, faced with the vitriol and blatant misogyny of her male peers, who eventually, like Morrow, are the recipients of sweet vengeance when the Japanese fighter pilots, the other shadows in the clouds, assail their trajectory. The set-up strikes a tone of intense and frustrating realities which Maude would have logically faced, and when the time comes for her to crawl outside of her turret mid-flight and slink along the underbelly of the plane to save the precious contents of her secret package, dangling precariously from an exposed pipe, the extreme pulpy flourishes mix queasily with what becomes increasingly nonsensical.

Besides some tonal shifts which aggravate what is otherwise a fun bit of pronounced pulp, Moretz often seems too young for a role which would have been more feasibly meaningful played by a woman a bit more mature, perhaps with even more dramatic stakes considering some revealed secrets. Always a resilient force (sometimes to a fault, as with her casting in Kimberly Peirce’s 2013 Carrie remake), some illogical stunts (including her body blasted back into the body of the plane thanks to a jet of air supplied by an exploding plane directly below) aren’t nearly as slick as they should seem, adding to the narrative’s rushed sensibility. Since we don’t get to breathe alongside anyone besides Moretz, the collateral damage of the male crew hardly registers (some shadowy fantasies of their faces outlined in red tints do have a nice effect, but familiar cast members like Nick Robinson or Callan Mulvey have nothing to do).

Most sacrilegious, of course, is the eventual peripheral nature of the gremlin, introduced through cartoon in the opening segments as a goofy bit of aviation lore. The creature effects are arresting, and one wishes more could have been done with this tangent rather than treating it like the same enigma afforded the segment of a thirty-minute television plot. A bit of hand-to-hand combat with the gremlin is a nice touch, but again, doesn’t have the same gravitas as, say, Ellen Ripley protecting Newt in Aliens with the cathartic mantra “Get away from her, you bitch!” reverberating through the genre zeitgeist. However, a fantastically anachronistic and moody score from Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper (Housebound, 2014) significantly elevates the film, and Liang’s impressive bits of homage continue to the end credits with the use of Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love,” a track famously opening with lines from Jacques Tourneur’s 1957 classic The Night of the Demon.

Reviewed virtually on September 16th at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival. Midnight Madness – 83 Mins


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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