Shadow in the Cloud Image

Liang and Landis clearly had fun dreaming up inventive ways of torturing Maude in her minuscule glass hatch. The majority of the film takes place in that very limited space; kudos to the filmmakers for maintaining non-stop momentum, a la Buried or Open Water. We hear what she hears, see what she sees; the sense of claustrophobia is palpable. 

An especially memorable gremlin attack leaves our hero with a broken finger. In another white-knuckle sequence, Maude shoots down an enemy fighter jet. Credulity is strained when she ends up on the underside of the plane, but the extended set-piece is sufficiently vertigo-inducing nonetheless. It leads to a “blast-propelling-her-into-plane” moment that’s bound to trigger applause. Maude’s final one-on-one with the gremlin, which brings to mind the finale of Tarantino’s Death-Proof, may alone be worth watching the entire thing for.

“…clearly had fun dreaming up inventive ways of torturing Maude in her minuscule glass hatch…”

Chloë Grace Moretz carries the film with aplomb, personifying the essence of a powerful female in a predominantly male environment, whose skin, despite its young age, has grown thick to constant harassment, toxicity, and disregard. That said, Liang and Landis deem their film more subversive than it actually is, hammering the same point home, over and over again. Don’t come looking for any subtlety here, unless it’s that of Moretz’s graceful features responding to threats, both physical and psychological.

The men’s insults range from offensive (“Hey there baby, I believe the powder room is this way”) to barbaric, such as when one “gentleman” offers her to choose between being labeled a who*e or a lesbian. I wish Liang spent more time juxtaposing the threat of toxic masculinity against the otherworldly threat of the, um, the gremlins (sorry, I can’t write that without laughing, but that’s what they are, indeed). Instead, the director relishes in the scum’s numerous derogatory statements, only to predictably unleash hell upon them later (I thought we progressed a bit since I Spit on Your Grave).

In more confident hands, Shadow in the Cloud could have been a demented allegory about female empowerment; instead, it’s just demented, albeit damn entertaining. Here’s hoping Landis gets his head out of the clouds and writes something that casts lingering shadows next time.

Shadow in the Cloud screened at the 2020 AFI Fest.

Shadow in the Cloud (2020)

Directed: Roseanne Liang

Written: Max Landis, Roseanne Liang

Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Taylor John Smith, Callan Mulvey, etc.

Movie score: 6/10

Shadow in the Cloud Image

"…could have been a demented allegory about female empowerment; instead, it's just demented..."

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