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TIFF 2020: Shadow in the Cloud Review

Shadow in the Cloud feels custom-made for TIFF’s raucous Midnight Madness crowds. Writer-director Roseanne Liang delivers one of the year’s pulpiest genre treats—as long as you’re willing to kick back and suspend your disbelief.

Much like the Fast and the Furious movies, this balls-to-the-wall action-horror flick only works when you turn off your brain’s logic centres. Sure, you can say that about Marvel movies too, but this film requires a greater leap of faith. The difference here is that Shadow in the Cloud starts off feeling grounded and low stakes before spiralling into Looney Tunes cartoon-level absurdity.

This flick is mostly a one-woman-show. Chloë Grace Moretz is onscreen for every scene and spends much of the film isolated from the cast. Her character Maude Garrett is a WWII female pilot, who at the last-minute, joins an all-male B-17 Flying Fortress crew on a mission. She’s tasked with protecting a package containing top-secret cargo, which the airmen are not allowed to see.

The pig-headed men don’t want a woman on board. They begrudgingly accept the order to transport Maude but force her into the ball turret at the bottom of the plane. Trapped and alone, Maude settles in and accepts the situation; it’s the ’40s, and she’s a woman, after all.

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Strange things start happening right away. As the aircraft malfunctions and pieces start falling off, Maude catches a glimpse of something moving around outside the plane. Is the pressure getting to her, or are these strange events tied to her mysterious cargo?

Moretz is electric in the role, which asks her to convey a wide range of emotions. Maude will do whatever it takes to complete her mission. That means keeping quiet while the misogynistic crew harass her or going full-on Ellen Ripley when the situation calls for some ass-kicking.

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The rest of the cast come off as one-dimensional cliches. They’re the kind of generic blue-collar meat-heads that show up in every war movie ever made — the wholesome small-towner, the loudmouth from Brooklyn, etc. Which is fine; this is a one-woman show, after all. These walking bags of testosterone might as well be Crystal Lake camp counsellors. Once the action picks up, Liang uses these fellas as chum to trigger the viewer’s bloodlust.

Liang wants her audience to take something meaningful away from this chaotic action-thriller. So, she places toxic masculinity under a microscope, to confront us with some uncomfortable truths, like how Maude endures the same acts of misogyny that still go on today. In 2020, society won’t let you get far in life if you’re openly racist—unless you’re the President. But men still get away with openly disrespecting women in too many ways to list here. The way the schmucks in the ’40s treat Maude is not unlike how men today treat female gamers, live-streamers, and social media stars.

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Shadow in the Cloud throws so many abuses at Maude that I lost track. There’s sexual harassment, condescension, objectification, and gaslighting, to name a few. I’m surprised the crew didn’t accuse her of witchcraft. On top of all the toxic male bullshit Maude trudges through, the film emphasizes how women must be twice as competent as men just to receive half the opportunity. Even with the film’s zany genre flick premise, these themes are still quite affecting.

It’s tough to get deep into what else this movie has to say without getting spoiler-y. So what I will mention is that it’s smarter than any outlandish popcorn flick needs to be. A lot of thought and craft went into finely honing Shadow in the Cloud into a thrilling end-to-end nail-biter.

I regret missing out on watching this movie with TIFF’s voracious Midnight Madness crowd. Everything from Kit Fraser’s bombastic camerawork to Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper ‘80s-inspired electro-synth score drew me deeper into Maude’s world. And there are several over-the-top moments where I envisioned the audience erupting into applause. But again, this film is targeting a certain type of audience. People with a low tolerance for nonsense won’t find much to enjoy here.

If you give yourself over to Liang’s ludicrous B movie vibes, Shadow in the Cloud makes for a devilishly fun guilty pleasure.

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TIFF 2020 RUNS SEPT. 10-19, 2020. CLICK HERE FOR MORE TIFF COVERAGE.

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