Released: 14th January
Seen: 25th July
Without a doubt in my mind, I feel confident in saying that The Twilight Zone is one of the most influential pieces of media to ever exist. Not only is it a piece that’s been redone time and time again (TV, radio, movies that end in horrific tragedy that should’ve probably ended the careers of the men who directed them) but it’s a series that every single creator is legally required to reference at some point. It’s a rich source for inspiration and possibly the most well known and often referenced segment would be Nightmare At 20,000 Feet, a piece where William Shatner is a passenger on a commercial airline and looks out to see something on the wing of the plane… and if you’ve seen that episode, congrats on also seeing Shadow in the Cloud.
Shadow in the Cloud follows Maude Garrett (Chloë Grace Moretz), a WWII pilot with an important package who manages to get onto a B-17 Flying Fortress just as it’s taking off. Highly suspicious of this woman who has just jumped onto their plane, the men on board lock Maude up in the turret underneath the plane until they can figure out if she’s legitimate or not. While Maude is down there, she spots something on the wing of the plane and her attempts to tell everyone goes unnoticed because they think she’s crazy and if you’ve already worked out exactly how this ends, good job on knowing the story of Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.
So let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way, Shadow in the Cloud has a co-writing credit by Max Landis. By “Co-writing” I mean it’s based on his original screenplay and they rewrote it entirely but he still has credit (and claims it’s still about 90% of his script). Max Landis has several credible rape allegations against him along with a history of sexist bullshit that’s so well known there’s literally a section dedicated to it on his Wikipedia page.
Now, I did not know that Max Landis was a part of Shadow In The Cloud. If I had realised it before I paid for the rental you would not be reading this because I wouldn’t want to give him a moment of my time. Sure, the director claims to have done heavy rewrites to the script but he still has a credit on it and I do try to avoid films by abusers… this one’s far enough removed thanks to those rewrites that I will still review the actual film, but with this it on the record that I believe Max Landis’ victims, he’s a scumbag.
He’s also an idiot because of all the people to write a film based on an episode of The Twilight Zone, the last person who should do that is the son of John Landis AKA Guy who directed the segment of The Twilight Zone Movie that killed 3 people. Maybe I’m weird, maybe it’s just me, but the name “Landis” shouldn’t be anywhere near something even tangentially related to Twilight Zone ever again (Honestly both Landis’ should not be allowed near cinema again since one of them is responsible for 3 deaths and the other is an alleged rapist but hey, that’s just a theory).
Oh and yes, Shadow In The Cloud contains a moment where a plane crash lands into the water because no one thought to not do that when the name Landis will be on screen at some point!
If you can somehow leave all that baggage aside (and if you don’t want to you don’t have to, it’s an awful lot of baggage), Shadow In The Cloud itself is fine. I admire the decision to spend almost all of it just locked on Maude while she’s locked in the turret, not only cutting her off from the rest of the cast but confining her into a spot that’s so small that she barely fits inside. It creates a lot of tension just seeing her trying to work with the limited information she has and her growing paranoia and fear make for compelling viewing.
Doesn’t hurt that Chloë Grace Moretz is a fantastic actress who pulls off multiple accents, crying on cue, pure fear and the terrifying rage of a woman who has just had it with everyone’s bullshit. Her performance is absolutely fantastic in every way, which helps make it through since this is largely a one-woman show.
Also, it doesn’t hurt that the story they’re using as a foundation is so good that it’s almost impossible to screw up. The entire story of Nightmare on 20,000 Feet is simple but brilliant, to the point that as long as you hit the key beats (Gremlin on a plane, one person notices it, others don’t believe them, gremlin keeps destroying the plane, person tries to stop gremlin and seems more unhinged while they do it) then you’re golden. Shadow in the Cloud hits every one of those beats pretty much perfectly, it’s a fine retelling of this classic story that works better than it has any right to. Even with the stuff they add on (basically enough to change from “People think you’re crazy” to “Sexism means the men don’t trust the woman”) ends up working in this context.
That being said, what doesn’t work at times are the actual effects. A lot of this is just bad compositing between the element of our main actress and the background behind her but there are several shots that are so badly put together it’s jarring. This would be fine except that most of Shadow In The Cloud relies on some compositing to sell that she’s in a turret under a plane, and it really never quite looks right. Compositing isn’t easy, no doubt about that, but when you require it to work for the majority of your film then you probably need to do a little bit better.
The long and short of it is that Shadow In The Cloud is fine, it’s enjoyable enough in large part because it’s using tried and tested material to make up the foundation. There’s enough there for it to be an entertaining viewing… but it has strong ties to a known abuser who decided to use a story from a franchise that doesn’t exactly have the best connection when it comes to his last name. Again, I don’t blame anyone if Max Landis’ name alone is enough for you to skip this, I wish I’d seen it earlier so I could’ve also skipped it, but if it’s not a deal-breaker and you haven’t had enough retellings of Nightmare at 20,000 Feet to satisfy you then here’s another one with some gender politics thrown in just for a treat.