I saw the trailer to this film when it was originally released and, I must say, I was intrigued…
Not bad, right?
As with far too many films, I missed it upon its initial release (shortly, I believe, before COVID blew up) but the movie was on sale through VUDU and I picked it up and, a couple of days ago, the wife and I gave it a watch.
Afterwards, I asked her what she thought of it.
Not all that much, it turns out.
In fact, she thought it was beyond stupid, a film worthy of being presented on MST3K. A film that was dumb, dumb, dumb.
I could see where she was coming from.
But, I didn’t hate it quite as much.
Don’t get me wrong: The film was far from “great” and, if I were pressed to put it on a 4 star scale I’d likely give it two stars, perhaps 2 and 1/2 if I’m feeling charitable.
Even so, that’s for the entirety of the product. There were moments in this film that I thought were quite great… I just wish the film had been like that at all moments rather than at some.
Chloë Grace Moretz stars in the film as Maude Garrett, a mystery woman who appears with a strange case in arm at a foggy airfield. The eerie mood is already set in those opening minutes with odd 1980’s synth music (which I really enjoyed, being a fan of such music, but which some might find out of place in a film set in World War II).
She enters an aircraft with its all male personnel and presents papers which suggest she’s on a secret mission carrying a top secret cargo (in her case) which needs to reach its destination.
The all male crew isn’t too fond of bringing a woman on board. Reading here and there about the film afterwards, it seems some felt it was “insulting” to feature the all male crew as mostly hormonal savages in the presence of a woman. Given the epoch, I didn’t find it all that problematic, but there sure does seem to be some major sensitivity these days about how men are portrayed in film (see the recent, all female starring remake of Ghostbusters).
They force their unexpected passenger into the “bubble”, the lower machine gun turret under the aircraft and, because its such a tight fit, she is forced to give up her case, which she does to one of the crewmen who promises to watch it and not look inside, which she claims would be a court martial worthy offense.
This, I must say, is where the film really surprised and delighted me and I’m going to SPOIL things a little so, if you’re interested in seeing the film, I suggest you do so and come back afterwards to read the rest of the review.
In case you’re doing that, I’ll offer my bottom line about the film: I can’t necessarily offer an unqualified recommendation for Shadow in the Cloud. Though its a well done film with pretty good effects (some, alas, aren’t quite as good), it features an engaging hero in Moretz’s Garrett and some genuinely eerie and thrilling moments… which are unfortunately upended by a script that I suspect was being reworked considerably as the film was being made.
Still, if you want to see something really far outside the beaten path, you could do much worse.
All right then…
So Garrett is sent into the bubble and, for the whole first half of the film, we as viewers are stuck there with her, isolated and alone, with only the radio communication with the other officers -which at first is incredibly crude on their part- as her only “company”.
Garrett spots a plane pacing them and, worse, a creature -a gremlin- that is on the plane itself, slowly ripping it apart.
These moments are the film’s most effective, where she tries to convince the rest of the crew that a) they may be followed by enemy Japanese aircraft and b) that this creature is ripping their ship apart.
Before Garrett finally leaves the bubble, the crew realizes what she’s carrying, which turns out to be her baby, and it further turns out that she’s running away from an abusive husband who may want to kill her as the baby isn’t his… but is the baby of one of the crewmen on this flight.
Now, I’m going to stop right there and say: That was a HUGE mistake, storywise, in my humble opinion.
Worse, it felt like it was something added to the script after the fact.
The Gremlin attacking the aircraft seemed to keep honing in on the case and baby, trying to take it for itself, which truly didn’t make a lot of sense. Did it know there was a baby within? Never made clear. But even if it did, why would it be so interested in it?
It felt like, to me anyway, that there was some other story element which was discarded regarding the case and its contents which linked the Gremlin more closely with wanting it and choosing to attack that particular aircraft, and I strongly suspect it had nothing to do with Garrett having a child and fleeing from an abusive husband.
The movie’s story, which takes elements from what is perhaps the most famous Twilight Zone episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (the one directed by Richard Donner and starring William Shatner, who sees a Gremlin on the airplane wing and freaks out trying to prove to the others in the aircraft they’re in danger) as well as the very first episode of Amazing Stories (which featured a crewman stuck in the bubble of an aircraft not unlike Garrett is and featured Kevin Costner and Keifer Sutherland in the cast) is credited to Max Landis who, shortly before the film’s release was accused of sexual and emotional abuse by eight women, has his name all but erased from the film’s actual credits (I honestly don’t recall seeing his name posted there, but I might have simply missed it).
What I do recall is that when the film was released the studio and stars made a point of noting that beyond the sale of the initial story, Max Landis wasn’t involved in the project at all, and the screenplay on IMDb is listed as being by Landis and director Roseanne Liang.
I have little doubt once the accusations against Landis were made public those in Hollywood made a great effort to distance themselves from him and I also strongly suspect Ms. Liang reworked the story/script quite a bit.
Unfortunately, and as I said above, we’re left with things that simply don’t connect well. The Gremlin which attacks is just there, without any real explanation or reason. He goes for the case carrying Garrett’s child “just because” and this too is presented without any real clear reason.
These things wind up hurting the film, which otherwise is not all that bad and is quite suspenseful at times.
In the end, I’m once again forced to say that a film that could have been quite good, which had plenty of ingredients, including generally good effects, a great lead/performance, and an intriguing initial premise, was undone by a script that needed a little more work, especially with regard to its reveals.
Which is just too bad.