I’ve been a fan of the Toronto International Film Festival’s Midnight Madness program since 2004. Every year since then, when September hits, the Midnight Madness schedule is always the first thing I check out. My first introduction to the program included the Belgian horror film Calvaire and the original Saw movie (I actually met James Wan and Leigh Whannell and have their autographs in my TIFF 2004 program which is something I’ll never forget) and with each new year, I frantically search for the next, totally messed up movie to check out. With limited options to choose from this year (thanks Covid), I went with the digital screening of Roseanne Liang’s World War II monster flick Shadow in the Cloud. The synopsis sounded cool, but what I thought I was going to be watching and what I ended up watching were two very different things. I thought I was going into a WWII horror movie and while the film is that, it’s really a B movie at heart with a strong female lead, great tension and some truly gruesome and hilarious action sequences.
When Shadow in the Cloud begins, we’re introduced to Maude Garrett (Chloe Grace Moretz). She’s pretty banged up already, with a bruise on her face and carrying a briefcase in one hand and nursing her other arm in a sling. She needs to deliver this secret “package” that’s in the briefcase and no one can open it or know what’s inside. It’s highly classified and it’s of the utmost importance that it stays that way. Boarding a U.S military plane called “The Fool’s Errand” she quickly learns that she’s the odd (wo)man out. Her crew is all males and they treat her with hostility the minute she boards. They put her down in one of the turrets that’s hanging below the plane and leave her to listen to them saying vile and sexist things over the radio. If that wasn’t bad enough, she notices a shadow of a creature crawling alongside the bottom of the plane, but when she tries to warn the crew, they call her crazy.
If it sounds like that episode of Twilight Zone “Nightmare at 20, 000 Feet” with William Shatner, you wouldn’t be wrong. Shadow in the Cloud definitely has the same vibe for its first half before going full creature feature. There’s some great build-up before the big reveal and the special effects are well done for the most part. There’s a certain cheese to the whole thing that gives it that classic Universal monster movie vibe and I dug it.
As far as plot goes, I can’t really dive into it without spoiling anything, but once you find out what’s in the package, it definitely raises the stakes. Between the ship and crew becoming unstable and the growing threat of the creature and enemy Japanese planes moving closer, the level of tension is extremely well done right from the start and carries on through to the end. With an original pulse-pounding musical score by Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper and Matt Jantzen and a brisk run-time of an hour and twenty-two minutes, the film has a great way of getting your heart racing.
When it comes to the performances, Chloe is a complete bad ass and definitely carries the entire weight of the film on her shoulders. For how silly the plot gets, there’s a certain gravity she brings to the entire thing that keeps you engaged. With Maude stuck in the turret under the plane with nowhere to go, we’re stuck down there with her. We don’t know what’s happening up top in the ship and neither does she. The only way we know anything that’s going on is listening to the chatter of the crew on the radio. When the situation becomes completely overwhelming, you’re just rooting for this woman to make it out alive and hoping she’ll be able to safely deliver the package she has brought on board.
Overall, Shadow in the Cloud is just a fun escape. It tries to take itself seriously the majority of the time and almost misleads the viewer if you aren’t prepared for the Sharknado-esque shenanigans that are to come. When you’ve got Chloe Grace Moretz hanging onto the bottom of an airplane upside down while trying to fight a creature that’s tearing the plane apart while also avoiding gunfire from enemy Japanese planes, you just have to laugh and roll with the insanity. I’m just sad I didn’t get to sit in a crowded movie theater full of Midnight Madness fans who I’m sure would have been screaming with delight during the final battle. – NVJ
Shadow in the Cloud was a TIFF 2020 Midnight Madness screening. No release date or distributor is currently attached