Thursday, October 22, 2020

AFI Fest Spotlight: Shadow in the Cloud

I’m delighted to be covering a number of selections from AFI Fest 2020. The festival runs October 15th-22nd, 2020, and films are available to watch online during that time.

Shadow in the Cloud
Directed by Roseanne Liang
Festival Information

Movies aren’t always taken the way those who made them intended. The implications of a film’s plot or the identity of its characters may be assigned undue relevance that influences the way critics or the moviegoing public digest it. Parodies or satires can also be misunderstood and taken as straightforward by an uninformed audience, which can either make them much better or much worse. A concept that creative forces thought was strong and compelling may in execution turn out to be less than impressive, and the result can be seen as of a completely different quality than pitches and summaries indicated.

During World War II, a female pilot, Maude (Chloë Grace Moretz), arrives on an airstrip tightly clutching a case that contains precious cargo. She boards a bomber plane and is immediately greeted by a hostile and chauvinistic all-male crew, who force her into the ball turret under the plane for takeoff. When she sees a Japanese plane flying close by, Maude tries to alert the crew, only to be mocked as hysterical and incompetent. The situation worsens when Maude sees a gremlin crawling on the wing and all the military men on the radio want to do is open the package, convinced that Maude is not at all who she claims to be.

This film is a wild mess that manages to get more and more preposterous as it goes on. Maude always seems to know more than everyone else on the plane, yet she doesn’t do much to make herself less suspicious. Her cover story is almost asking to be questioned, and her minimal efforts to keep the truth hidden are thin and ineffective. Once the gremlin shows up and the contents of the package are revealed, there’s no turning back for this fully ridiculous film, committed at that point to topping its already unbelievable content with as much absurdity as possible.

As a tribute to the many women who were underappreciated despite significant qualifications during World War II, this film might have been a fun action exercise. Instead, it’s described as an “exciting horror film,” one that is, unfortunately, neither exciting nor scary. It’s unclear whether its most startling moments are genuinely meant to be funny or are laughable only because of how terrible they are. Moretz is a talented actress who hasn’t previously had to contend with such a poor script, though she deserves some credit for her efforts to taking the material seriously. This film runs just eighty-three minutes but begins feeling like a true mistake within its first half hour. Its campiness doesn’t work, and the female empowerment story it’s trying to tell is lost within this truly baffling and plainly bad movie.


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