Shadow in the Cloud (2020)

I had forgotten that this movie existed until a coworker mentioned that he’d caught it on Netflix and that I should check it out. I had already been curious, based on the little I knew (and what I knew wasn’t all good, that’s for sure) but on a tipsy Saturday night, my wife and I decided to shut our minds down and toss this hopefully cool WW2 gremlins-on-a-plane flick on.

Shadow in the Cloud follows ‘Maude Garrett’ (Chloe Grace Moretz), a Women’s Air Auxiliary pilot claiming to be tasked with transporting a case of secret documents, as she hitches a ride to her destination on a B-17 bomber, a bomber crewed by an all-male collection of sexist and threatening jerks who are not overly thrilled about her presence. While she must confront blatant misogyny and intrusive questioning and actions, a supernatural force in the form of a gremlin appears to torment the aircraft and its unsuspecting crew…while Japanese fighters stalk them from afar. Nonsense and hilarity ensue.

So again, my Better Half and I kicked back and hit PLAY on what we hoped would be an enjoyable WW2 romp with thriller elements and a dash of horror.

You can see what we ended up with below…

Amusing start. WW2 propaganda cartoon. This flick began with a cartoon throwback to the newsreel days of ‘Pvt. Snafu’ (Situation Normal All Fucked Up, get it?), the animated ‘mascot’ character of numerous military education movies, that reminded me of the cheeky ‘The More You Know’ vintage opening of a favorite Halloween movie of mine, Trick R Treat (2007).

More synthwave! WW2? I literally just finished with my review of Godzilla VS Kong, where I praised that creature feature’s use of an 80’s inspired synthwavey film score, that somehow worked, IMO. Given this flick’s 1940’s WW2 time period and setting, a synth-heavy score stood out as though they were mining nostalgia without any clear stylistic reason for it. I would’ve appreciated a more orchestral approach.

More yellow. Another where I can throw back to my previous review. G vs K made ample use of a bright, attractive shade of yellow for its Title Cards and subtitles and this one followed suit (coincidence?).

Plane crew are sexist assholes right off the bat. This was one of the very few things I’d heard about this one prior to seeing it, that the crew are over-the-top and transparently sexist and boy, they did not disappoint. Literally within seconds of Chloe Grace Moretz’s ‘Maude’ climbing aboard the B-17 bomber on the runway, she’s openly subjected to all manner of sexist commentary and suggestion, a theme that just continues unabated as it all plays out.

Given the Max Landis connection, the blatant misogyny makes sense. So, one of the other aspects that I knew about before checking this one out were the sexual abuse allegations leveled against the screenwriter, in this case, one Max Landis (Chronicle). Landis descends from Hollywood royalty, with his pops being John Landis, director of such past hits like National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978), The Blues Brothers (1980), An American Werewolf in London (1981), the ill-fated Twilight Zone Movie (1983) and personal favorite Spies Like Us (1985), among many others. The man has earned his clout…but his fucking asshole of a kid has not. From the sounds of things, up and coming film writer Max Landis victimized and sexually abused up to eight women, a point that came to light during the #MeToo movement a couple years back and that had a detrimental effect on the production and release of this flick, with the production company visibly distancing themselves from the younger Landis as his disgusting transgressions became known. Knowing what I now know about his sick and manipulative proclivities, the over-the-top misogyny and overall ugly tone applied to the all-male air crew abruptly makes sense.

These idiots need to STFU! I want them all dead. There’s no holding back, in the writing of the air crew. They are CONSTANTLY talking ‘Maude’ down, doubting her at every turn and lobbing mean-spirited words of sexual abuse whenever they can. There is no attempt to show any kind of different side to these dickheads and it quickly became very tiring. As I opening declared at one point – “Shut the fuck up!!”

Good first glimpse of gremlin. When the non-human antagonist shows up out of nowhere, its just a quick look but it was effective. I’ll give them that much.

Yikes! Finger. In a bid to keep the ball turret’s outer hatch closed against the creature’s frenzied attack, Chloe jams a finger into the broken lock (for some silly reason!), and quickly has it grotesquely broken in the process (served her right!).

They ONLY talk about her?! The dipshit crew? Every single time ‘Maude’ picks up the headphones to try and communicate with the crew, all they seem to be doing is bitching about her presence and laying out all kinds of crass, rapey commentary. So rarely is talk of their actual mission heard. Had me shaking my head…again.

This flick needs some quiet moments. Too much lame chatter. I get that director Roseanne Ling wanted to keep the pace brisk, with the runtime coming it at a normally agreeable 1 hour 23 minutes but there isn’t much time given to breath. There is constant bullshit chatter happening and no ‘quiet time’ given for moments or settings to have their moment of pause and further establish atmosphere.

Gremlins look creepy enough. When we finally get a good honest look at the creature tormenting the flying bomber, it’s not bad. The beast has a decent look that worked for me.

Chloe! You coulda said something about the engine. There’s a scene where ‘Maude’, trapped in the ball turret, watches as the gremlin goes to work pulling apart one of the engines…but doesn’t even try to inform the crew. It could be argued that she’d encountered enough of their bullshit to even try communicating again, but in the case of a strange supernatural beast shredding a key component of the aircraft she’s dangling beneath, trying to let the crew know again would’ve been prudent and it would’ve made her character seem just a wee bit smarter.

I hate these characters. Please start dying. That. Right there.

The constant VO is obnoxious. See previous scribble.

What a twist! Pfft! *SPOILER*

…So, the box of secret documents that ‘Maude’ is apparently transporting is actually…drum roll, please…a friggin baby she had when she got knocked up by one of the crewmen, the only obviously nice one. Through all this shit that’s gone on, there’s now a baby, amazingly still alive after all that’s happened, crammed into a box and constantly needing saving. I LOL’d on that one.

And gremlin went where? Pace killing exposition scene. Chloe gets a big, solemn exposition scene that stops the pacing dead in its tracks and made me wonder ‘where the hell did that attacking gremlin just vanish off to?’ Was it just chilling somewhere? Letting her have her Oscar bait moment before it continues tearing the plane apart? Stupid.

Bwahaha! Climbing around outside a bomber mid dogfight fighting gremlins. Hilarious! As if this flick couldn’t get any more moronic, we have an extended sequence where, mid-flight and at high altitude, Chloe climbs out of the stricken ball turret with no problem and proceeds to climb around the outside of a B-17, IN FLIGHT, fighting to get to the baby’s basket, which by the way leisurely dangles in a light breeze from a piece of engine wreckage after being abducted by the creature and is in no way damaged or threatened by what would’ve been intensely violent and freezing cold wind sheer. And this is during an attack by Japanese fighter planes, an attack that doesn’t cause the bomber to stray from its course, level or heading in any way. No jinking, twisting or turning, like a real B-17 under attack would’ve done, which is obviously lucky for ‘Maude’ as she jungle gym’s her way along the underside of the plane. So dumb.

Again not sure of the synthwave soundtrack. Yep, the music is at odds with the tone and setting. This is NOT a win for 80’s nostalgia.

More climbing?! This is stupid! Yep, she just keeps on going.

Physics means nothing! Many examples of this ensue but the one that I instantly come back to is a cartoonish sequence (as in Looney Tunes) where Maude loses her grip and falls away…only to have a burning Japanese plane conveniently pass below her in the nick of time to explode with enough force to literally blast her back up into the plane above, straight through the hole she fell from. And she’s fine! Barely a hair out of place. If the explosion had the force to fling her hundreds of feet straight back up, she ought to be a shredded corpse by the time she landed.

What the hell is this stupid music?! Full disclosure – I’m a sucker for good techno music…and I stress GOOD techno music, but it has a time and a place and when I heard this shitty and instantly annoying track fading in, in the lead up to another improbable and illogical action scene in the 3rd Act, it drove another nail into the coffin for this flick. Again, like before, the tunes didn’t blend and the attempt at subversive juxtaposition (I think that was the goal(?)) fell flat on its face.

SO not the time for a make out sesh! Oh, of course it’s time to suck face, with chaos and destruction ensuing all around. Isn’t that how it always goes?!

*shakes head, amazed*

Cheap, shock value ‘what if’ fake-out. For a split second, I thought the movie took a ballsy chance in how it disposed of a ‘character’, a death easily considered taboo in most mediums (they even show blood leaking out)…only to yank the rug out with a cheap and manipulative ‘all in her head’ reveal. Get bent, movie!

Like hell that kid’s OK! Puh-leeze. As I already mentioned, a… *SPOILER*… baby turns up and is in pristine shape by the time the credits roll, which would definitely NOT be the case, had even half the events gone down. The pesky child would be messed up, brain damaged if not outright deceased (likely splattered all over the inside of the tiny box it’s being tossed around in) after all the shit it miraculously ends up surviving.

-“And here’s the lesson.” This quote came from my wife…and sure enough, right on cue, we get a ‘she deservedly earned their respect in the end for being a strong, independent WOMAN’ lesson shoved down our throats. Obnoxious and unnecessary.

*Side note – It always amuses me when other women call out the obvious overcooked effort on the part of the feminist community to overcompensate for the lack of equality of years past by essentially giving tough, masculine traits to characters that don’t need to be defined that way to be effective as female characters. Defeminizing them (and thereby taking away a key element of a woman naturally being a woman) in a bid to compete with, and ultimately out do those damn males. Just saying.

Yea, you tear off that sleeve! Wait…what? This cracked me up. *SPOILER* So after the B-17 crash lands to safety, piloted by a man of color (segregation, anyone?) and a woman (ticking off the PC boxes, I see), Chloe wades into combat when the gremlin reveals itself at ground level. As this tiny 5.3 foot woman wades into the fight, she inexplicably tears off one of her sleeves, that wasn’t all that damaged to begin with. The scene’s given all this intense, seemingly meaningful gravity but for what? Was it someone’s idea of looking tough? And *BAM!*…back down onto its face this movie falls.

Punching its face?! No hand damage?! Fuck off! Chloe beats the shit out of the gremlin, using her tiny bare fists to lay a superhero-like beat down into the monster’s rat-like face, a face that has been repeatedly established to be loaded with sharp fangs and a strong jaw. Yet her hands, even the one with the already broken finger, seem fine at the end of the day. No more broken bones, no cuts, no bites, no scrapes, no nothing. And yet I kept watching.

Wow! Just nailing that ‘I am woman, hear me roar’ motif home. By now I shouldn’t be surprised by this. I’m all for women’s rights, equality and representation but I don’t need to be beaten about the head with overly feminist, borderline militant posturing. It distracts and cheapens the core argument. And the less said about the sudden introduction of a totally needless breastfeeding scene, in the aftermath, the better.

Why are you looking at US, Chloe?! The flick ends with Chloe breaking the 4th Wall to stare us down right before the credits rolled, during the aforementioned breast feeding scene. Why?! Odd choice.

Hmmm…not sure about this one. 1 hour 23 minutes felt long. Which seems strange to me. When I first saw the run-time, I imagined / hoped for a tight, lean and mean little story that would fly by (no pun intended) to a satisfying conclusion. In the end, Shadow in the Cloud actually felt too long, and that’s not good. Pretty sure my well-earned hatred of any character that was NOT Chloe Grace Moretz (mostly, she was fine) had an effect on this feeling and led to the narrative, though superficially fast paced, dragging its ass to the finish line.

All in all, I’m glad I got around to checking this one out…but I can’t honestly recommend it. Overlooking the deserved boycott of anything written by that dick Max Landis (who I once respected as a writer), quite simply this movie is a silly, often non-sensical mess populated by a number of literally faceless (for most of the run-time) characters that are just there to be Terrible MEN, just another foe for our strong, independent WOMAN ‘Maude’ to overcome in this age of sexist, misogynistic and outdated gender politics. She’s gonna show them all! Normally I also like to give a shout out to the film score, but I can’t do it here. As much as I dig the retro synth sound that helped define the 1980’s, it didn’t have a place here and served more as a distraction than as a quirky homage to that Golden Age of Cinema. Simply poor choices made. If I had to dig up something positive, I can tell you that the film at least looks good. It has a solid color / lighting scheme and many of the shots are creative and inspired. I will also give a half-point-to-you shout out to Chloe Grace Moretz (girl, drop the ‘Grace’! it makes your name so clumsy!). She did seem like she was putting it the effort and actually shone in a couple scenes. It just wasn’t enough. Check this one out if you want to kill an hour and a half praying for the nasty deaths of a bunch of sexist assholes (that are not nasty enough when they happen!) while laughing at the hilarious portrayal of physics in action.

Riveting stuff. Pfft!

*If you want to check out a flick rocking a similar theme and setting, only done surprisingly well, check out writer / director David Twohy’s criminally underseen Below (2002), where we get another lone female character confined in the bowels of a US submarine during WW2 with an all male (and also sexist) crew, only to earn their respect when she fights along side them to defeat the various threats they come to face, both supernatural and otherwise.

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