Writers: Roseanne Liang and Max Landis
Director: Roseanne Liang
In the closing credits of Shadow in the Clouddirector Roseanne Liang offers archive footage of women pilots in the Allied Air Forces. Given the film’s plucky heroine, should the film be read as a tribute to all the women who overcame sexism to play vital military roles in World War II?
That wouldn’t make much sense of the film’s particularly nasty gremlin. This is no Stephen Spielberg cute mischief-maker, but a repellent creature, a large and steel-clawed, hairless rat with a distorted bat’s face and hideous fangs. Liang and fellow writer Max Landis take an interesting cultural curiosity here, drawing on the gremlin myth popularised by RAF pilots in World War II. Airmen would claim that these naughty fellows were responsible for mechanical faults and failures on aircraft. And indeed the film begins with shots of contemporary posters warning against lowering morale by blaming gremlins for shoddy workmanship.
It’s 1943 and the action focuses almost exclusively on a striking young woman who may or may not be Flight Lieutenant Maude Garrett of the WAAF (enthusiastically played by Chloë Grace Moretz). She has mysterious orders to board a fighter aircraft to deliver a top secret package. Exactly which country’s airforce we are with is left hazy. All we know is that they’re bound for Samoa. The warning signs are all there: the aircraft is called ‘The Fool’s Errand’ and its fuselage depicts a pouting woman sitting saucily astride a bomb. Plus, despite being a B-17 Flying Fortress with its all-important upper and lower turret, the plane is rickety and badly maintained.
Its crew are an ill-disciplined bunch of misogynists and the glamorous young Garrett endures their relentless barrage of sexist insults before being locked into the cramped lower turret. But she is an ace mechanic, so quickly susses the location of the button that allows her to communicate with the main cabin. There is another barrage of insults. The crew convulse every time the word ‘package’ comes up. Garrett uses her cut-glass English accent to tell them what for. This is the basic set-up for the first quarter of the film. We also know that Garrett’s top secret package is up in the cabin, being looked after by the decent Walter Quaid. The camera, however, is committed to filming Garrett, which means it – and we – stay down in the turret for most of the film. Luckily the camera loves Moretz’s face and captures her range of decorative expressions, as, barring views of grey skies, there’s not much else to see. We are reassured that her perfect hair and make-up are likely to survive the bumpy ride.
A crew member claims there’s never been a Japanese fighter plane this far before. But from her unique vantage point Garrett is able to spot one. They don’t believe her, however, and remain convinced they’ve got a wrong’un on board. They also scoff when she reports seeing the titular Shadow clinging onto a wing. And they don’t see, as we do, that the creature soon manifests as the loathsome gremlin, plastering itself to the window and inserting spiky rat tail and vicious claws wherever it can. Garrett has a gun, however, and successfully repels the first gremlin attack. Meanwhile upstairs, they’ve heard the gunshot and demand to know who Garrett really is. It turns out she’s not English! She’s American! It’s not quite clear why this change of nationality matters, but on we go.
We’re still in the turret watching with admiration as Garrett single-handedly machine-guns approaching enemy aircraft, performs first-aid on herself (including realigning her dislocated finger) and deals with the indestructible gremlin. To say anything beyond this point would be to offer spoilers. But you can probably guess that the top secret package has a part to play. And that fearless Garrett will finally win the respect of the sexist men. How they’re all going to get back from Samoa, however, remains an intriguing mystery.
Signature Entertainment presentsShadow in the Cloudon Digital Platforms 31st January and DVD 7th February.