TIFF Review: Shadow in the Cloud is an exhilaratingly silly yet undeniably entertaining genre mashup from writer/director Roseanne Liang

Trigger warning: Sexual abuse and some coarse language

Before we start off this review, let’s point out the elephant in the room. The film was co-written by Max Landis, who is now known for the various accusations of emotional and sexual abuse from eight separate women. Since then, lead actress Chloe Grace Moretz has said that the filmmakers of Shadow in the Cloud have completely distanced from him by re-writing the script several times and discrediting him from being a film producer. This type of clout may be detrimental to the film itself but it is necessary due to the serious matter at hand; especially when the man in question is still credited as co-writer due to WGA rules. From now on, I’ll never mention that person’s name in my review again.

Shadow in the Cloud is co-written and directed by Roseanne Liang, a rising filmmaker from New Zealand who is best known in this reviewer’s eyes due to the 2011 charming rom-com, My Wedding and Other Secrets starring Michelle Ang. Imagine this reviewer’s surprise that she was directing a genre hybrid headlined by Moretz. Considering the potential of a rollicking time from its premise, will the film overcome its looming negative clout and fulfil its promise?

Set in the tumultuous times of World War II, Moretz stars as Maude Garrett, a flight officer who is tasked to deliver a top-secret package. She is assigned to board the B-17 Flying Fortress from a runway in Auckland, New Zealand; alongside a group of Allied soldiers (Nick Robinson, Callan Mulvey, Taylor John Smith, Beulah Koale, Benedict Wall and Joe Witkowski). Her presence due to her gender causes a ruckus on the plane within the crew due to her gender alone but she may not be the only one shaking things up.

Just as she is beginning to impress the crew with her knowledge and her vivacity, she spots something lurking in the shadows outside of the aircraft; a giant creature with sharp teeth, long legs and grey fur that is gradually destroying the vessel.  The idea of such a thing is already impossible to believe but compounding that with the doubts from the men over the presence of Garrett on board and her strict duty to protect her top-secret package, Garrett is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Shadow in the Cloud is definitely a niche project as it delves into genres such as the war genre, the horror genre and the sci-fi genre – much like 2018’s Overlord by Australian director Julius Avery — with gleeful abandon. So much so that it is possible to get figurative whiplash whenever the genre shifts while the audience tries to latch onto something that is remotely humane and relatable to sympathize. Thankfully, Liang and Moretz step up to the task and manage to bring a compelling emotional grounding to the proceedings.

Liang creates the stifling and claustrophobic environment that Garrett is thrown into quite convincingly; opting to show the male characters through obtrusive voiceover rather than visual cues. The offensive and misogynistic remarks that Garrett is forced to hear is eerily reminiscent of toxic work environments that are still prevalent today, especially with the nature of the clout surrounding the film itself. When seen in complement with the ridiculousness of a mythical creature in a World War II setting brings palpable suspense – who would believe such a thing? — due to its Boy Who Cried Wolf scenario.

Moretz’s performance is enjoyably spirited and grounded for such a boisterous project. She acts out the infinite frustrations on the task at hand – the leering men, the war scenario, the top-secret package, the menacing creature – with believable vulnerability and tenacity. The supporting performances all hit their mark but they eventually all blend together — which is certainly intentional thanks to the voiceover – but this is definitely Moretz’s show. It was amusing to see Moretz battling through another claustrophobic enclosure after going through a few of them in Neil Jordan’s 2018 thriller Greta.

The film has a low budget and it shows at times mainly due to its lack of convincing special effects work. Yet in an oddly ironic fashion, it does have an old-fashioned feel at times thanks to the cinematography by Kit Fraser; reminiscent to a dusty rear projection look. In one notable sequence in which will be described vaguely due to spoilers, Garrett is seen climbing and it brought up memories of a sequence in Hayao Miyazaki’s animation masterpiece Laputa – Castle in the Sky, complete with explosions. It is ludicrously loony in the best of ways. Thankfully, the creature effects are convincing and they elicit the right amount of tension for it to be formidable and fearsome to the audience.

The action scenes are fun to watch due to the energy that Liang brings to it; as she and editor Tom Eagles gradually accelerate the pacing from an even keel to a full roar. Couple that with a brilliant score by Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper that is both post-modern and retro and the compounding of unapologetic absurdities in its plot points – including a reveal of the nature of the top-secret package –  and an inspired use of the track Hounds of Love by Kate Bush; the film becomes exhilaratingly silly in a way that audiences will either go with the flow or they will be turned off completely.

Shadow in the Cloud is an incredibly silly yet undeniably entertaining genre mashup that is kept afloat thanks to Liang’s direction and it is smart enough to keep its emotional grounding to Moretz alone; whom delivers a capably punchy performance. Recommended with a generous amount of alcohol.

Remember when I said that I’ll never mention that person’s name again?

I lied.

Fuck Max Landis.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Shadow in the Cloud screened as part of the Toronto International Film Festival, which is taking place mostly digitally this year. For more details head to tiff.net.

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