I’m not particularly keen on films that are set, for the most part, in one particular location, such as Phone Booth or Buried, for instance. However, if you throw in a Xenomorph into that setting, everything changes – I will likely be watching that film once a year for the rest of my life. The reason that had me writing this little review of New Zealand’s Shadow in the Cloud is the creature in what I see as a creature feature action film branded as horror.
Shadow in the Cloud is a war film with a young woman being the lead protagonist. The lead role is played by Chloë Grace Moretz. In case you are not familiar with that name, here’s the list of some of the films that she’s been in to give you the idea of the scope of her experience: The Eye, The Amityville Horror, Kick-Ass, Hugo, Carrie (remake), The Equalizer, Suspiria (the 2018 version).
Events are taking place during the World War II on the board of a B-17 bomber called The Fool's Errand. Moretz’s character Maude Garrett spends most of her time in ball turret of the aircraft, making a journey from New Zealand to one of the Polynesian islands. Thus far this sounds like an interesting combo of time, place and characters for a war film, but, despite there being a few action scenes in it, the main plot feature is Maude Garrett’s backstroy. That story is being told mostly through conversations via internal communications system, which makes it almost as an experience of listening to an audiobook accompanied by Moretz’s face of worry, and also that of a desperate problem solver. And problems she has. As much as this way of telling Garrett’s story may sound like a method of budget economy on the part of filmmaker Roseanne Liang, in the film itself it works as a well worked out method of gradually revealing that little of everything that is going on is what it seemed to be at the moment of Garrett boarding the bomber. The film’s devil is in the details of conversations with who says what at which moment.
No less interesting is the choice to keep the audience at times guessing as to whether things that are being heard are just in Garrett’s head, or are they indeed real and taking place in real time. If that was the filmmaker’s objective then it is difficult to think how it could have been achieved in a better way than to give Moretz so much of the screen time in a setting like that of the turret.
Now onto the problem I have with Shadow in the Cloud: the creature. Imagine if creatures in Cloverfield, for instance, were actually big puppies of Golden Retriever. Sure, they do damage to properties, threaten and kill population, and therefore need to be gotten rid of, but, ultimately, you would feel like crying when they get hurt, or die because those are, after all, cute looking stupid puppies. If you fancy testing your inner horror fan’s understanding of cute then Shadow in the Cloud is your go-to film. In my eyes, for some mind boggling reason, the monster creature had been created as such that fails to look monstrous. The only explanation for that that I could come up with was that the creators of this film wanted to show us that the most cute looking beings can sometimes be the most evil ones. Be that as it may, I must say that this is quite a unique case where I felt like in the film the wrong creature is doing the wrong things.
“Go on, what would you have created?” I hear my inner creative genius of gremlin production asking me. “Well, how about creating an elaborate mechanical creature that looks like a snake, give it an AI and the ability to change its shape to imitate various parts of mechanisms when needed, and make it capable of flying short distances when needed?” Would be my answer. Such a snake look-alike would have to be left behind by aliens. Not necessarily on purpose. It could just have the mind of its own, having shown whatever middle finger it would have to its former alien overlords, could it not?
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