SHADOW IN THE CLOUD (2020)

Shadow in the Cloud.jpg

Studio:     Vertical Entertainment
Director:    Roseanne Liang
Writer:     Max Landis, Roseanne Liang
Producer:  Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Fred Berger, Kelly McCormick, Tom Hern
Stars:     Chloe Grace Moretz, Beulah Koale, Taylor John Smith, Callan Mulvey, Benedict Wall, Byron Coll, Joe Witkowski, Nick Robinson

Review Score:

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Summary:

A secretive flight officer transporting a mysterious package joins a crass WWII crew that ends up battling a deadly creature.


Synopsis:     

Review:

The online ¡°horror community,¡± or a specific circle of it on social media anyway, has selective blindspots when it comes to ¡°cancel culture.¡± In 2020 alone, accusations of bullying, racism, and sexual harassment created career complications for at least a half-dozen potentially problematic people ranging from indie executives and filmmakers to popular podcasters and writers.

I¡¯ve always found it hypocritical that a large part of this same sector still refuses to condemn director John Landis with the same frothing fury they eagerly aim at whatever dogpile of the day found a slur in a tweet from 10 years ago or had an ex reveal some form of abuse. In 1982, gross negligence and the willful violation of multiple labor laws led to the gruesome deaths of actor Vic Morrow and two children on the set of ¡°Twilight Zone: The Movie.¡± Despite damning eyewitness testimony, John Landis was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter, although millions of dollars were paid to affected families through settlements from several civil lawsuits.

There¡¯s a slippery slope in there. On one hand, the American justice system says if you¡¯ve served your sentence or been judged ¡°not guilty,¡± you earn a redeemed role in regular society. So do we then let the accused resume his/her life with a presumption of lesson learned? Or does the court of public opinion overrule opportunities for redemption, and remain free to keep persecuting that person indefinitely instead?

While Landis lucked out with former scenario, the latter is what happened to director Victor Salva. Salva sexually abused a 12-year-old actor on the set of ¡°Clownhouse¡± in 1988, which is something that internet comments will remind you of every time Salva releases a new film or an article mentions his name. Salva¡¯s defenders argue, ¡°He served 15 months in prison. Doesn¡¯t that entitle him to move on with his life and go back to work? What else should happen?¡± Detractors counter, ¡°F*ck that. The man is a proven pedophile who should never be allowed near a camera again. I don¡¯t care what the law says.¡±

Just so there¡¯s no confusion, I¡¯m not advocating that Salva deserves the ¡°forgive and forget¡± treatment Landis gets. I¡¯m saying I don¡¯t understand why Landis isn¡¯t broadly vilified the same way Salva is. Three people died horribly at least in part due to his allegedly reckless actions. I have a hard time reconciling how Landis continues to be celebrated as a ¡®Master of Horror¡¯ by genre film fans turning a blind eye while someone else can be immediately ostracized over past crimes, unproven allegations, or just controversial comments made in an interview. What¡¯s the standard for who stays stigmatized and who doesn¡¯t? Because it seems to be based on how popular that person¡¯s movies are.

Similar to how Bill Cosby¡¯s predatory deviance was an open secret for decades until Hannibal Buress lit the viral fire that triggered his downfall, I used to think Landis¡¯s past would eventually catch up for a real reckoning. It doesn¡¯t look like fans are willing to let that happen. ¡°Jeepers Creepers¡± can be safely sacrificed. Folks apparently love ¡°An American Werewolf in London¡± too much to completely disown John Landis.

¡°Shadow in the Cloud¡± has a dark specter of its own in the form of screenwriter Max Landis who, if allegations are to be believed, may be as insufferable as his father. To head off any potential backlash from angry villagers bearing electronic torches, everything above doubles as a disclaimer to clarify that reviewing this movie should not be taken as implicit support for Max Landis. (And because ¡°Shadow in the Cloud¡± is so acceptably average, I needed another subject to have something to talk about.) It seems silly to have to declare that, but with so much grandstanding going on in other outlets, I guess it¡¯s necessary. Which circles back to the question, what do we do with content when it turns out one of the contributors was a creep?

Some genre media members have proudly proclaimed they will neither watch nor cover ¡°Shadow in the Cloud¡± due to Max Landis¡¯s involvement. In between instances of implying anyone who does differently must be an enemy to righteousness, they¡¯ve alternately fashioned a headline out of how ¡°Shadow in the Cloud¡¯s¡± PR did damage control by claiming Landis¡¯s script was rewritten, except the final story ended up looking suspiciously unchanged. One way or another, the moral majority would make sure ¡®The Landis Touch¡¯ would forever dominate discussions of this movie. Based on the end product, I can believe any number of possibilities regarding who really wrote what and why.

¡°Shadow in the Cloud¡± features Chloe Grace Moretz as WWII flight officer Maude Garrett, who boards an Allied airplane full of the most misogynist military men imaginable. The film¡¯s first act is an all-out verbal assault on Maude¡¯s gender. When the soldiers aren¡¯t quipping about Maude sitting on their laps, unwrapping their ¡°big packages,¡± or debating who will forcibly bang her first, they call her names escalating in egregiousness from dame to bitch to slut to whore. Long after the movie makes its point, claims that Maude may be crazy, hysterical, or otherwise afflicted with an emotional impairment that can only be remedied through intercourse continue in a nearly 20-minute barrage of what Instagram responses to a provocative photo would look like if brought to life in 1943.

Adding to her debasement, the crew finds a solo seat for Garrett in an isolated cockpit where she can be out of their way while remembering her place. Garrett spots a strange shape in a cloud. Naturally no one believes her. Dismissing Garrett is still fun and games for the men. It becomes less so when an unusual creature stows away on their plane, as though firefights with Japanese bombers didn¡¯t pose enough danger. Will Garrett, or the mysterious package she brought onboard, turn into everyone¡¯s key for survival?

If Max Landis indeed wrote most of the movie, then he may have meant it as a snarky ¡°I¡¯ll show you¡± parody of the ¡®Mary Sue¡¯ trope, or as penance for using that label and taking a mad amount of heat for it. Among the younger Landis¡¯s lesser offenses, he once tweeted that Rey from ¡°The Force Awakens¡± was a ¡¯Mary Sue,¡¯ a term for fictional women who are inexplicably strong, as well as the ¡°worst f*cking Star Wars main character to date.¡±

The irony in play is that after enduring nonstop grief from oppressive males, ¡°Shadow in the Cloud¡¯s¡± Maude Garrett operates a machine gun turret, battles a bat-like beast in hand-to-hand combat, climbs across the underside of an airplane in flight, shoots down two enemy aircrafts, and lands a plane with only one line of dialogue to justify how her limited experience could make all of this possible. Hmmm. Isn¡¯t that a lot like what Rey was criticized for? I can picture Max Landis rolling his eyes and cynically saying, ¡°Fine, you want me to prove how easy it is to create an over-the-top caricature and throw her into a silly serial setup?¡± Benefit of the doubt suggests maybe Garrett is an apology where Landis instead says, ¡°Let me make a bombastic female action hero as proof I believe women really can do extraordinary things without providing explicit narrative explanations.¡± I¡¯m not sure if the joke is on us or on him.

But if ¡°Shadow in the Cloud¡± was rewritten, then I imagine it was done so to transform Garrett into more of an empowerment icon than Max Landis made her. Not only does Garrett do everything mentioned, she also proves to be more resourceful, courageous, and a bigger badass than the men she has to rescue. The movie ends with Garrett openly breastfeeding without a shred of shame for anyone¡¯s discomfort. That moment fully raises a middle finger toward outdated gender roles. Post-2020 provides an ideal climate for this message to pierce its target. Regardless of whether it was Max Landis¡¯s doing or director Roseanne Liang¡¯s, the film¡¯s ¡°women first and forward¡± attitude proves to be more fun than the few and far between action scenes.

¡°Shadow in the Cloud¡± is an inconsistently interesting take on staging a single person in a single location. The movie¡¯s midsection almost exclusively consists of the camera staring straight at Garrett, only occasionally cutting away to her view while the men are merely disembodied voices over an intercom. People who want to look at Chloe Grace Moretz for the better part of an hour are in luck, as ¡°Shadow in the Cloud¡± puts her face front and center in 75% of the frames. The movie still looks sharp and moves nicely for being a constricted production, even though drippy melodrama becomes as drowsy as an audience¡¯s willingness to see the same shots of Moretz over and over again.

To my knowledge, Chloe Grace Moretz, director Roseanne Liang, and the rest of the cast and crew didn¡¯t do anything to deserve dismissal by association. It¡¯s difficult for knowledge of Max Landis¡¯s offscreen issues to not influence immersion in the film¡¯s chunky pulp fantasy. But to alternately ignore the movie because of Landis throws a lot of hardworking babies out with the bathwater. I¡¯ll simply reiterate that ¡°Shadow in the Cloud¡± is a perfectly mediocre midrange B-movie, no more and no less, and leave the critique at that.

To close the loop on the editorial component of this essay, I¡¯ll add that Lance Henriksen starred in the first film Victor Salva made following his prison stint. Anyone anxious to permanently paint scarlet letters on foreheads for real, perceived, direct, or indirect transgressions and associations better be ready to jettison more than a few fan favorite figures, because the truth is uglier than popular perception realizes. Before doing that however, maybe recalibration should start by reevaluating John Landis under the same scrutinizing light shone on his son.

Review Score: 50