'Shadow In the Cloud' Movie Review: 'Mission at 20,000 Feet' [AFI FEST]

Shadow In the Cloud is like that one Amazing Stories episode meets that one Twilight Zone episode. Not only is the movie derivative of both, but it’s so obsessed with doing everything bigger, it loses any of the intimate tension that made either obvious inspiration work. 

Chloe Grace Moretz vs. the ‘Shadow in the Cloud’

Shadow In the Cloud begins with an Allied Air Forces cartoon about gremlins on planes. There’s even a gremlin poster on the locker, so you know they’re going to do some kind of riff on “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”  In 1943, Maude Garrett (Chloe Grace Moretz) misses her flight so hitches a ride on a WWII bomber out of New Zealand. She rides in the belly, where the bulk of the movie takes place, like “The Mission.”

There’s no doubt Moretz can hold a movie entirely on her face, but Shadow In the Cloud doesn’t give her the material. The script is so obsessed with throwing things at the story, it didn’t bother to actually solve the creative problems.

The unmaking of ‘Shadow In the Cloud’

Once Garrett boards the plane, much of Shadow In the Cloud is tight on Moretz sitting in the belly. The male pilots of the bomber speak with Garrett in voiceover over the comm system. Garrett handles a few incidents in the belly and tries to convince the pilots she sees a gremlin. Suspicion about Garrett arises and a Japanese fighter complicates the psychological drama between Garrett and the crew. 

Shadow In the Cloud does keep escalating the problems facing Garrett and the bomber crew. Unfortunately, it loses the audience early on with preposterous solutions to those problems. Psychological thrillers hinge on believing the protagonist can outsmart the problem. If you just throw absurd, bombastic deus ex machinas around, there’s nothing to invest in. Bombastic action movies can get away with it, but Shadow In the Cloud established a grounded psychological tone in the first half.

The Max Landis cloud hanging over the film

The filmmakers and cast tried to distance Shadow In the Cloud from Max Landis. Landis wrote the script. On June 18, 2019, Variety published reports of eight women accusing Landis of rape, sexual abuse and psychological manipulation. Even prior to Variety’s story, Moretz told The Guardian the film was being rewritten following mounting allegations against Landis. 

Landis still receives a “written by” credit. Pajiba reports that the Writers Guild of America guarantees him that credit, so there is nothing the filmmakers could do. Were Shadow In the Cloud a triumphant, empowering film for Moretz, it might mitigate its origins. Unfortunately, much of the Landis vibe remains with the male crew simultaneously diminishing Garrett’s abilities and ogling her, even when they can’t even see her. 

Shadow In the Cloud is a wash. The premise promises an empowering story of a heroine persevering against attackers both systemic, military and supernatural. Unfortunately, the base story sabotages Garrett more than any gremlin could.

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