It fairly safe to say that 2020 has been… memorable.
From the pandemic to marches for social justice, the year that was has provided enough drama to last a lifetime. As such, there’s no question that it deserved an appropriate cinematic send-off. As the 1st film of 2021, it’s possible that Shadow in the Cloud may have managed to be that film.
But in this case, that’s not a bad thing.
Directed and co-written by Roseanne Liang, Shadow in the Cloud tells the story of Flight Officer Maude Garrett (Chloe Grace Moretz), a female pilot in WWII tasked with travelling with top-secret documents on a B-17 Flying Fortress. Though ordered to make the trip by a superior officer, Garrett’s presence is seen as unwelcome by the male crew and she is left to endure the flight in the lower bowels of the plane. Angered by their sexist behaviour but committed to her mission, Garrett accepts her position and takes her seat. However, when she notices a mythological evil on the outside of the plane, Garrett must attempt to convince her male counterparts of the ensuing danger before it’s too late.
A feminist echo of the classic Twilight Zone episode, ‘Nightmare at 20,000 ft’, Shadow in the Cloud is a wild mish-mash of styles that may be disjointed and over-the-top but still manages to entertain. Though the film starts out slowly, Liang’s story of a young military woman trying to protect her top-secret package is an absolute blast by the end, celebrating womanhood and feminine strength with enthusiasm. As Garrett, star Moretz has much of the film placed upon her shoulders yet offers the right amount of courage and power to bring the character to life.
So, why the comparison to 2020? There are actually a couple of reasons.
To start, Shadow takes its conversations surrounding social justice seriously. While the film is far from subtle, the message of female empowerment and equality lands effectively as Garrett steps up against the men who seek to hold her down. Left in the bottom turret of the gunship, Garrett is positioned below the male officers both literally and figuratively. Struggling to survive in a world of (extremely) toxic masculinity, Garrett sits patiently the belly of the plane and waits for her agonizing experience to be over. However, as things begin to spin out of control, there’s a feminine fire in her eyes that’s unleashed as she fights her way through the aircraft’s quickly disappearing fuselage in order to keep her mysterious package safe. In this way, like 2020 itself, Shadow wears its heart for justice on its sleeve by highlighting the lack of respect that women experience in the midst of a male-dominated society.
Further, just like the year that was, what starts out as relatively non-descript, quickly devolves into utter mayhem. Half monster madness, half 40s fighter film, Shadow is a wild ride that embraces its crazy circumstances with absolute glee. In the midst of its serious social commentary, this is a film that leans into the pulp and bizarre so much that you can’t help but enjoy yourself along the way. Echoing films like Tremors or Snakes on a Plane, Shadow often relishes its absurdity as much as it invites you to join them for the ride. In fact, the more the film leans into the insanity, the more entertaining it becomes. (For example, without giving away any spoilers, it could possibly be the first film that you’ll witness a person explodes into a plane…) After a year that featured alien videos, murder hornets (remember those?) and more, Shadow’s joyful penchant for creature carnage fits very nicely into 2020’s own utter lunacy.
Admittedly, if taken too seriously, Shadow in the Cloud has glaring flaws that could kill the viewer’s satisfaction of its exploits. However, the film embraces its reckless abandon with such enthusiasm that it’s hard not to strap in yourself and enjoy the flight. Fun and fervent, there’s little question that Shadow in the Cloud is far from a perfect film.
But it may just be the perfect film to close out 2020.
Shadow in the Cloud is available on VOD on January 1st, 2021.