TIFF 2020: 'Shadow in the Cloud' Creature Feature on a B-17 Bomber
by Alex Billington
September 18, 2020
One of my favorite things about film festivals is discovering exceptional filmmakers by stumbling upon their break-out features. This film is one of the best discoveries of the 2020 Toronto Film Festival, playing in the prestigious Midnight Madness category. Shadow in the Cloud has a crazy, wickedly impossible concept - follow a woman who gets on a rickety B-17 Bomber, known as the "Flying Fortress" in WWII, as she escorts a special classified package that must not be opened. The whole film takes place on this B-17, nicknamed the "Fool's Errand" (yeah) by the crew. This means they could film it on a very small set but also somehow have to make the entire thing believable and authentic. To top it off, once she gets on the flight (and is relegated to the ball turret), she spots some gnarly gremlin crawling around and ripping apart the plane. This creature feature element of the film is a distinct nod to "The Twilight Zone" gremlin, yet isn't even the main conflict.
Shadow in the Cloud stars Chloë Grace Moretz as First Officer Garrett of the WAAF from New Zealand, who is sent to catch a ride on a flight from Australia heading to the Samoa Islands with a small package. But not all is as it seems, and the crew gets suspicious, too. The captain orders that she is sent to the "Sperry", the tiny ball turret hanging out of the bottom of the plane. For the next 40 minutes or so, the focus is always on her just sitting in there - most of the dialogue is heard through the radio. The other Allied crew members spend almost every second making derogatory, chauvinistic remarks, they never believe her even when she spots an enemy plane, and eventually shut her off entirely. What happens next – I can't reveal, as this film is about the riveting experiencing of watching her and waiting to see what happens; wondering if the gremlin will tear it all down, or if something else will go wrong, or if they'll even make it to their destination intact.
This genre film is unabashed 80s throwback cheese, yet total mega fun to watch. I can't stop from using the hyperbolic term "awesome", but it is awesome, with a cracking script. I'm still amazed they pulled it off. It's the second feature film made by a Chinese-New Zealand filmmaker named Roseanne Liang, who has been working in TV for years. It's shot inexpensively, clearly, but is effectively thrilling and convincing. It moves at a swift pace right from the start, and is designed to keep viewers on the edge of their seats despite half of the script taking place inside contained locations - like the B-17 ball turret. Not to mention there's a gremlin crawling around, and once things get intense and the action gets going, there's a few well-earned "holy shit" moments. They're actually rather absurd and kind of dumb, but you know what, I'll allow it. These moments fit right in with the 80s throwback tone and style, and honestly makes it all the more entertaining to watch.
Shadow in the Cloud is an enjoyable mashup of synth wave score (by Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper), a good amount of over-the-radio dialogue, minimalistic filmmaking and minimal sets, cheesy action beats aplenty, totally ridiculous but fun twists, obvious yet effective CGI, and Chloë Grace Moretz kicking ass in the lead role. I don't know, as ridiculous as it is at times, I just had a blast watching this. Which is sometimes exactly what I want with genre films. I don't need it to be irrefutably realistic, and considering there is a gremlin on the plane anyway, it's not meant to be real. There's a compelling balance between visuals and authenticity, in that this is a B-17 flying a mission during WWII, plus a monster movie paying homage to "The Twilight Zone". There's two eye-rolling moments, but even these don't detract from how awesome this film is. And if Liang can make a film this exciting on a small scale, I can't wait to see what she will do with a bigger budget.
Alex's TIFF 2020 Rating: 8.5 out of 10
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