For a film that takes place mostly within the confines of a warplane cockpit, Shadow In The Cloud plays out as a ferociously entertaining thrill ride. Anchored by a strong performance from Chloë Grace Moretz, director Roseanne Liang takes an interesting concept and transforms it into something that feels grander and more nuanced than what might’ve seemed possible on paper.
Taking place 20,000 feet above the ground, Shadow In The Cloud follows airwoman Maude Garrett (Moretz) as she boards the B-17 Flying Fortress where she is tasked with protecting a strictly confidential package. The exclusively male-oriented crew wastes no time in belittling Garrett’s capabilities as a pilot, but as the aircraft begins to reek of mysterious horrors, they realize who the real hero is onboard.
A Technically Sound Thrill Ride
From a technical standpoint, Liang does an impressive job creating suspense and momentum, particularly during the first half of the film, where Moretz’s character is trapped within a rather claustrophobic cockpit. The action is very deliberate and the characterizations are intensely dramatic, even though most of the other key players are primarily heard (and not seen) through radio communications. Liang doesn’t seem to have a lot of ingredients to play with, but she manages to mix them into a deliciously satisfying narrative that puts you on the edge of your seat.
The score by Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper also stands out by offering a unique sound that modernizes the time period in which the film is set in. And although the visuals aren’t groundbreaking in any way, they get the job done, and the singular setting never feels restrictive. From beginning to end, Liang never tapers the sense of excitement she creates during the film’s proverbial takeoff.
A Film Where Women ‘Kick Ass’
It’s also refreshing to see Moretz in an action role, as this is surprisingly the first time she’s ‘kicked ass’ on screen since her turn as Hit-Girl in the two Kick-Ass films. Seeing her battle through the horrors onboard this hellish aircraft offers a much-needed reminder of her commanding and graceful physical presence. But physicality aside, the dramatic elements of the screenplay also required a performance with both precision and depth, and Moretz handled this with expected ease. She’s proven herself to be one of the most capable young actresses working in Hollywood, and seems to always challenge herself with diverse roles.
And as fun and pulpy as Shadow In The Cloud is, Liang also infuses the film with a strong statement on femininity by critiquing the thorns of toxic masculinity. She does this by not only condemning the actions of the male crew members but by also demonstrating the prowess of women during wartimes. It’s not widely known that female pilots were often asked to fly planes across enemy territories during World War II, and did so while unarmed and without proper navigation devices. This level of heroism permeates the film and offers a glimpse into a part of history that continues to be dominated by male-focused stories.
Reports on the film’s production were initially dominated by Max Landis’ involvement as a screenwriter, and luckily, that narrative is no longer being hoisted to the spotlight. It’s worth noting that Liang herself is also credited as a writer for the film, which likely speaks to the amount of additional work she ended up doing on the screenplay. This clearly shows as Shadow In The Cloud seems to speak from a very female-centric voice. And given what Liang was able to achieve with the relatively limited scale of this film, the sky is really the limit for what she might be capable of with an even bigger budget. In an industry where Hollywood commercial tentpoles are still predominantly made by male filmmakers, it’s without question that Liang should be put on the radar after this astonishing effort.
What are some of your favorite war films told from a female perspective? Let us know in the comments below!
Shadow in the Cloud had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Watch Shadow in the Cloud
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