Shadow in the Clouds just has too many conflicting forces to ever properly get off the ground.
Published on May 21, 2021
Rating 2 /5
Here is a film that feels like a sloppy mash of ingredients that don’t quite fit. Assembled with undoubtedly the utmost admiration, the film mixes together World War II action, melodramatic romance, a creature feature aspect, and lighting/music more indicative of the 1980s than 1940s. It may have even been aiming for that revisionist allure present in Heavy Metal comics. Alas, what was thought of to be a great combination of strong genre elements merely comes off tasting like an off-tone mess.
It is 1943 and Maude Garrett (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a fighter pilot who has just hopped aboard a B-17 bomber with a mysterious package. Locked in the turret cockpit of the plane, she endures the all-boy radio chatter as the pilots bicker and speak of Maude as a woman they wouldn’t mind having their way with. However, Maude is not what she appears and her package is not really a package at all, holding a secret baby she had hoped to keep a secret. And the father is on the plane as well.
There’s little time for the deceived crew to berate her, however, as there are bigger problems. Outside the plane, Japanese fighters are closing in on them, threatening to shoot down the craft. Inside the plane, a grotesque gremlin creature is eating up the interior and threatening the safety of the crew. The pilots and gunners, previously untrusting and mocking of Maude, now find themselves relying on her expertise when all hands are called on deck.
There’s a lot of intensity bubbling throughout in this tense, terror-in-the-skies story. Moretz gives a lot of cunning and grit, especially for the entire first act that requires her to be trapped in a cramped cockpit. The atmosphere is fairly nerve-wracking with the struggling engines and the eerie sounds of the gremlin scraping its claws against the cold, hard metal of the bomber. In fact, if the film were more of a bottle movie and kept Moretz mostly contained, there could’ve been a minimalistic wonder of a film.
Unfortunately, things start going downhill the moment she leaves the turret. Witnessing that the gremlin has her baby on the outside of the bomber, Maude gnashes her teeth and climbs around the belly of the plane to save her child. It sounds exciting but the special effects of trying to portray Moretz scurrying about the plane amid a rising sun while fighter jets zoom past her is a scene that is heavy on special effects that are not very effective in terms of compositing. If I told you that the crescendo of the film is Maude engaging in hand-to-hand combat with the gremlin, blocking punches that the monster throws her way, I doubt you’d believe me. I didn’t believe it myself, especially for how clunky the compositing comes off in what was meant to be a bad-ass moment.
Perhaps one of the most clashing elements is the soundtrack of 1980s electronica by Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper. It's a wildly moody and vibrant collective of tracks but they just feel so off here in a film that’s trying to achieve a kinda/sorta retro vibe. The soundtrack just comes on way too strong with brooding and twinkingly of synthy symphonies that there’s this immensely jarring effect throughout the film. It clashes just as much as the family melodrama feels out of place in a film with a monster onboard and enemy aircraft filling a bomber full of holes.
Shadow in the Clouds just has too many conflicting forces to ever properly get off the ground. There are bits and pieces of a good movie here but it feels more like a Frankenstein’s monster of a movie, patched together from various parts that don’t quite fit together. Try as the film might, it just can’t shove together its aspects of romance, war, horror, and action without looking like a sloppy mess.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.