★★★★½ - STUFF
- Kiwi-shot action-horror a stunningly executed crowdpleaser -
Third-time really is the charm for Chinese-New Zealand director Roseanne Liang.
In the noughties, she made a splash with her autobiographical documentary Banana in a Nutshell, while in 2011 she charmed audiences with her Romeo and Juliet-esque rom-com My Wedding and Other Secrets (a movie again at least partly inspired by her own relationship).
Now, she’s left a calling card for Hollywood with one of the most exciting and inventive action flicks of the past few years.
The breathtaking and bravura crowdpleasing rollercoaster that is Shadow in the Cloud begins at Auckland Allied Air Base. It’s a dark and stormy night in August 1943 and the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force’s Maude Garrett has a plane to catch.
Unfortunately, the crew of The Fool’s Errand, heading off on their own mission to deliver transponders to Samoa, are surprised and dismayed at her request to join them. An argument ensues, until a compromise is reached. Maude can come aboard provided she sits in the claustrophobic Sperry – at least for take-off. That means she reluctantly has to sit apart from her document bag, the contents of which she is fiercely guarding. “It’s fragile, needs to be kept upright and is strictly confidential,” Maude warns her less-than-savoury hosts.
Confined to her cramped ball turret, she endures a barrage of sexist remarks, before calling them out on them (they’d forgotten she could hear via the internal comms). That though is also when she notices what appears to be a strange creature on the underside of the plane. Her alarm is dismissed with disdain by the others, claiming it’s a distraction technique. However, when they attempt to open the hatch to let her out, it’s mysteriously jammed.
With tensions and temperatures rising, a call from Auckland comes through – there’s no record of a Maude Garrett registered for either this flight, or in the Allied Forces at all.
From the fabulous opening animated Air Force Public Service Announcement (created by Aotearoa studio Mukpuddy) on safety (“it’s not critter who cause accidents, it’s careless airmen”) to the final montage of real-life war-time airwomen, Shadow in the Cloud is a cinematic tour-de-force and terrific fun.
Even if you aren’t a big fan of horror movies, you’ll be swept along by Liang’s vibrant storytelling, clever framing and slick editing, which turns its single location into an asset, rather than a hindrance. Believe me, there are some genuine twists, and jaw-dropping moments abound.
This is a movie to enjoy with a group of friends on a late summer evening, or by yourself as an escape from the heat and the perils of 2021.
While arguably inspired by two classic anthology TV show stories – The Twilight Zone’s 1963 tale Nightmare at 20,000 Feet and a 1985 Amazing Stories’ instalment The Mission – Shadow is very much its own beast.
Aside from some Weta Workshop wizardry, Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper’s (Fantail, Housebound) magnificent 80s-esque atmospheric soundtrack and a few fabulous one-liners, at its heart, Shadow’s success is the result of a superb performance by Chloe Grace Moretz. Bringing to life a character who, in franchise circumstances, could have been the next Ellen Ripley or Sarah Connor, Moretz here reminds us of why her debut as Kick-Ass’ Hit Girl was such a revelation. Handling the action, one-liner delivery and escalating drama with equal aplomb, it’s hard to believe the talented actor is still only 23, such has been her assured and varied life on-screen.
A deserved and appropriate winner of the People’s Choice Award in the Midnight Madness section at last September’s Toronto Film Festival, Shadow is an audacious thrill-ride just screaming out for your attendance at a cinema near you.
- James Croot, STUFF
Shadow in the Cloud is now playing at Light House Cinema!
(R13 - Violence, offensive language & content that may disturb)