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Movie review: Macho guys, a gnarly monster, and a feisty woman take to the skies in ‘Shadow in the Cloud’

Ed Symkus
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Maude Garrett (Chloë Grace Moretz) fends off an attack at 8,000 feet.

No one would argue that feminist-WWII-action-horror films are in short supply these days. Throw in a bit of soap opera sensibility, and it’s safe to say that “Shadow in the Cloud” is a hybrid that’s one of a kind. It’s also, in just about every way imaginable - with the exception of one outstanding stunt and a few cool visual effects - a very low budget item.

All of that adds up to a fast-moving, unexpectedly enjoyable blast of fun. It’s likely that for whoever is watching this, even though they’re convinced that it’s a cheesy B-movie, there’s going to be a moment when they realize that they’re completely caught up in it. They’ll be rooting for the heroine, having bad thoughts about the rude, macho guys she’s stuck with, and cringing at both the hideous creature on the wing of their B-17 bomber and at the squadron of Japanese planes closing in on them from behind as they’re flying through an intense storm 8,000 feet above New Zealand.

How’s that for setting the scene? Here’s how the film gets there.

It’s August, 1943. An all-male crew of a U.S. Army Air Corps bomber is preparing to fly from Aukland to Samoa. Their mission is to deliver transformers to the Allies. But just before takeoff, Flight Officer Maude Garrett (Chloë Grace Moretz) arrives, unannounced, wearing a flight jacket, an oversize briefcase slung from a shoulder, an arm in a sling, fast-talking her way onboard.

“Get off!” demands one of the crew, who considers her an “unwanted dame.”

“No! I’m commissioned to this flight,” she yells back, then, looking at that case, “I’m supposed to guard my package.”

She manages to stay on, but with not enough seating room for an extra passenger, she’s relegated to the Sperry turret, the cramped space at the bottom of the plane where the gunner usually sits. This is probably a good thing for her, as no one among the six crew members wants her around. Sitting down there, isolated, she can hear them happily and inappropriately demeaning her on her headphones, and has no qualms about cutting in to shut them up.

Director Roseanne Liang shows quick, harshly lit flashes of each crew member along with their names, and though the men appear now and then, keeps her camera trained on Maude - from different angles - throughout the lion’s share of the film, making it a near-one-person performance.

But Maude, down below, is hearing more than those voices in her headphones. She’s also hearing some strange growling sounds, but can’t locate their source. Then the storm begins. Then she sees something on “the underside of the starboard wing.” What was that? She’s ordered up to the cabin, but her door won’t open, trapping her down there. Something goes by her window, and peeks in, but she doesn’t see it. Nice touch! But when she does look out, there’s the first Japanese plane, hunting them down. A door behind her opens, and something with sharp, hooked claws tries to bite her, so she punches it and slams the door.

Who is this feisty woman? Why is she on this plane? What is in her package? What the heck happened to the British accent she had at the beginning, but somehow lost along the way? The questions keep piling up. The answers are not forthcoming. Engines go out, radios stop working, pandemonium ensues, claustrophobia could set in for viewers watching these cramped spaces.

Before it’s over, Maude’s back story is told, the contents of the package are revealed (there’s that element of soap opera), the number of living crew members is reduced, and wild, preposterous action is played out. It becomes the tale of a tough woman fulfilling a personal journey while doing her share in fighting the war. There are plot inconsistencies, but that’s OK. It’s a crazy, audacious, constantly inventive movie.

“Shadow in the Cloud” premieres on most digital platforms on Jan. 1.

Ed Symkus can be reached at esymkus@rcn.com.

“Shadow in the Cloud”

Written by Max Landis and Roseanne Liang; directed by Roseanne Liang

With Chloë Grace Moretz

Rated R