SHADOW IN THE CLOUD movie poster | ©2020 Vertical Entertainment/Redbox Entertainment

SHADOW IN THE CLOUD movie poster | ©2020 Vertical Entertainment/Redbox Entertainment

Rating: R
Stars: Chloe Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Beulah Koale, Taylor John Smith, Callan Mulvey, Benedict Wall, Joe Witkowski, Byron Coll
Writers: Max Landis and Roseanne Liang
Director: Roseanne Liang
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment/Redbox Entertainment
Release Date: January 1, 2021

SHADOW IN THE CLOUD combines a (low-budget) WWII fighter plane action drama with the classic TWILIGHT ZONE episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” The mixture is so natural that it prompts the question: why has it taken so long for anybody to do this particular blend of genres?

The film starts with a WWII-era cartoon about “gremlins,” the ostensibly fictional critters that airplane mechanics like to blame for human error. (Something similar was referenced in the 1984 film GREMLINS.) The point of the cartoon within SHADOW IN THE CLOUD is that military flight crews should be tidy, careful, and take responsibility for their own mistakes. The point to the audience viewing SHADOW IN THE CLOUD is so that we know to be on the lookout.

The action then picks up at the Auckland Allied Air Base in 1943 New Zealand. A small mixed crew of Americans, Britons, and New Zealanders are about to take off in a B-17 Flying Fortress.

The men are, one and all, flabbergasted when female Flight Officer Maude Garrett (Chloe Grace Moretz) presents them with documents from a superior officer, declaring that she is to be allowed aboard the flight, and that the top-secret package she carries not be opened under any circumstances.

Garrett is nursing a broken arm and a bruised cheek. She is observant, trying unsuccessfully to warn the crew that she’s seen some cable draped over the landing gear. She’s also got a thick skin when it comes to absorbing a barrage of sexist insults from all aboard except polite Staff Sgt. Walter Quaid (Taylor John Smith).

When the men insist that there’s no room for an extra person in the main body of the aircraft, Garrett is stowed in the “sperry turret,” the gunnery port in the plane’s belly. Quaid vows to keep Garrett’s package secure, since it won’t fit in the sperry turret with her.

Alone, Garrett becomes aware of the possibility of enemy aircraft without, and another passenger that is considerably less welcome and more dangerous than she is.

Director Roseanne Liang makes good use of the mostly contained spaces on the few sets. She has an excellent partner in Moretz, whose expressive face often informs us of what’s happening before we see it. Moretz’s conviction is also invaluable in persuading us that Garrett is emotionally vulnerable, yet technically and physically more than capable.

The script by Max Landis and Liang has plenty of mini-mysteries to keep us alert for clues. The gremlin design leaves something to be desired, as it looks so much like a large version of a specific real-world animal that we wonder why the characters don’t just call it that. (Well, we know why, because then it wouldn’t be a “gremlin.” This is an argument for making it more gremlin-ish.)

The end credits have a montage of archival footage of real WWII women pilots and air crews, honoring the archetypes behind Garrett’s character.

SHADOW IN THE CLOUD displays a spirit of Roger Corman can-do-much-with-little. There are moments of insanity, but they are played straight. The results are overall pretty entertaining.

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