This feminist creature feature delivers a wild ride of a good time -- as long as that's what you're anticipating. At first, though, it's hard to make heads or tails of what almost seems to be two different films stuck together. Shadow in the Cloud starts out as a serious World War II suspense drama, giving viewers a firsthand understanding of the sexism that women often face in the military -- and how that undermines the greater good. Through this portion, Moretz is a one-woman show, the camera focused solely on her as she sits in the cramped, all-window rotating seat below the plane. Only able to communicate with the crew through headphones, she tries different tactics to stop their demeaning treatment while ensuring that she and her important package arrive safely at their destination. It's a claustrophobic, up-close examination of what some skilled, capable women have experienced just trying to do their job. And then, when Garrett spots a "gremlin" standing on the wing, tearing an engine apart, you'd be forgiven for assuming that this is a rewrite of the famous Twilight Zone episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet." But that's just when the film takes a hard left in logic. Garrett climbs out of the plane's window, taking the film's legitimacy with her. That's OK -- as long as you're on board with the idea that the movie is going to transform into something completely different. When she shouts, "You have no idea how far I'll go," it's not a warning to the gremlin, it's a warning to viewers -- because you definitely do not know how far out the film will go in its last half hour. As the camera turns to show an upside-down Garrett right side up, the film's tone, style, and power dynamic change, leading into action sequences that are eye-poppingly improbable.
This is a film with a case of the "too bads." It's "too bad" that Shadow in the Cloud won't be seen in many movie theaters: The special effects and cowabunga action should really be seen on the biggest screen possible. And, with as many other people as possible -- that last half hour is meant to be a shared experience, with audiences collectively hooting and hollering at the screen and looking at each other while shaking their heads with a smile, mouthing, "WHAT THE WHAT??" It's "too bad" this isn't a full virtual reality experience, because it puts you in Garrett's seat, with her bird's-eye view of the Japanese Zeroes attacking her plane. And, it's really "too bad" that original writer Max Landis is associated with this film, because the very nature of it is so, so close to his real-life situation (he was ousted from the project after multiple accusations of sexual assault and misconduct) that you can't shake his presence. And thanks to the gremlin storyline, you can't not think of Twilight Zone: The Movie, which is notorious for the death of three actors under the supervision of Landis' father, John Landis. Or maybe it all makes sense -- perhaps Moretz and director/rewriter Roseanne Liang taking complete creative control of Landis' work and turning it into a feminist film is justice. It certainly plays out that way in the film. As it becomes clear to Garrett that none of the men on the plane have it within themselves to step up and destroy the slimy, vile, dangerous beast that's plaguing their flight, it's clear to viewers that the gremlin is a metaphor for all of the slimy, vile, dangerous nonsense that women have had to endure through the centuries -- and it's up to women to finally squash the demons whose presence threatens us all.