Review: Shadow in the Cloud is a thrilling wartime horror movie

Shadow in the Cloud (MA, 83 minutes)

Three stars

I've long enjoyed sci-fi/horror/fantasy anthology series like The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, and The Ray Bradbury Theatre. While by their nature they tend to be uneven, watching an episode is not a huge investment in time. If one story is disappointing, usually it has something to enjoy about it and there's always the possibility the next one will be better.

Shadow in the Cloud is like a combination of the classic and often referenced Zone episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet - where William Shatner looks out the window of a plane and sees a monster on the wing - and the Amazing Stories episode set on a World War II bomber, The Mission, with more than a dash of the movie Aliens in the mix.

If that sounds derivative, is it, and while the film - written by Max Landis and the talented director, Roseanne Liang - is often preposterous, with script holes and action that ranges from unlikely to impossible, it's still a fun ride if you're willing to go along with the implausibilities and enjoy the mystery and tension. At less than 90 minutes, it's tight and gripping, and as someone who hates heights I found myself feeling almost dizzy and clinging to my Dendy seat during some of the more vertiginous sequences: I was involved and engrossed and the tension overrode the silliness.

The film is a US-New Zealand co-production, which probably explains why it begins in the latter country. In 1943, a B-17, "The Fool's Errand", is about to embark on a long range supply mission. Shortly before takeoff British Flight Officer Maude Garrett (Chloe Grace Moretz) talks her way aboard saying she has an urgent, classified package that must be delivered, so she needs a ride.

Not surprisingly, the sudden and mysterious interloper is not welcome. Her package is taken by one of the crew, Walter Quaid ( Taylor John Smith) for safekeeping and she is consigned to the ball turret.

Chloe Grace Moretz in Shadow in the Cloud. Picture: Roadshow

Chloe Grace Moretz in Shadow in the Cloud. Picture: Roadshow

A fair chunk of the film takes place with Garrett confined to this tiny space - not a place for the claustrophobic or acrophobic - but it's never boring. Over the communications system, she hears the men make disparaging and often lewd comments about her - only Quaid is sympathetic - and when she notices something outside, on the underside of the wing, all but one of them, who notices it too, are dismissive.

When Garrett is going to come out of the turret, the hatch becomes stuck and the men, annoyed by her calling them out on their comments, aren't in any rush to try to release her. Since the crewmen have not been very individually characterised - we don't spend much time with them - and most of what they say is crass at best, disgusting at worst, it would take the most unrepentant sexist not to be firmly on Garrett's side. The film needed a strong actress to be the central presence and Moretz conveys a wide range of emotions well in addition to being a convincing action hero when required.

But as the movie goes on, it emerges that there is more to Garrett than meets the eye - she's not who, and what, she claims to be - and there's a possibility our sympathies have been misplaced.

Of course, this being World War II, there's more than a distinct possibility there will be encounters with enemy aircraft.

And then there's the matter of that mysterious something on the wing. The film opens with an animated instructional film - reminiscent of the Private Snafu training films from World War II - reminding servicemen to stay alert and not shirk their duties or attribute problems to imaginary "gremlins" - long blamed by airmen for sabotaging their aeroplanes.

But what if gremlins are real? It's not a spoiler to say that in this film, they are. The one that rears its ugly head is as dangerous as any foe.

Garrett is the one who sees the gremlin, knows it's real, and is most under threat from it, and how she deals with it forms a large chunk of the movie. The gremlin is convincingly created and suitably loathsome and the battle between it and Garrett is gripping.

Especially in the latter stages of the film, a lot of what happens utterly defies credulity - one moment, shown in the trailer, has Garrett fall from the plane and get blown back onto it from an explosion just below her. Still, it's more than obvious that realism isn't the aim here.

Mahulia Bridgman-Cooper's score is dramatic but sounds heavy on the electronics and I found the anachronistic nature of the sounds jarring.

There's an epilogue about women who served in World War II, one of those often overlooked parts of history.

While their service didn't mirror what happens in the film, obviously, it's no less real for that, and the film's feminism is integrated into the story rather than being shoehorned in awkwardly.

If you're looking for a summer thrill ride of a movie, Shadow on the Wing might fit the bill.

This story Gripping yarn of a gremlin threat first appeared on The Canberra Times.