“Shadow in the Cloud” is a war picture and a monster movie that dips into one or two more genres before it’s done, but director and co-writer Roseanne Liang (“My Wedding and Other Secrets”) never lets the pace slacken. It’s the kind of movie that has you laughing at the filmmaker’s moxie while also yelping at the suspense.
Liang and co-writer Max Landis get away with any number of bold moves — including sticking their heroine into a cramped, solitary space for the first half-hour and limiting her communication with other characters to voices on a radio channel — but in the end, “Shadow in the Cloud” succeeds so frequently that viewers will be more likely to give some of the lapses in internal logic a pass.
After an opening animated sequence that parodies the World War II cartoons Warner Bros. produced for the Air Force about the mythical “gremlins” that were thought to be the source of aircraft malfunction, we follow Captain Maude Garrett (Chloë Grace Moretz) as she hops onto a B-17 bomber at the last minute, carrying with her a leather case containing what she says is classified cargo. The men on board, with one exception, are vulgar, hostile or dismissive at the idea of having a female passenger, and the captain forces her to ride in the ball turret during takeoff until he can sort out why she’s there.
(The ball turret is that bubble at the bottom of a fighter plane, where the only thing separating a gunner from a free fall is one inverted dome of glass. At some point or other in high school, you may have learned Randall Jarrell’s poem “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner.”)
From her vantage point, Maude can see things that the other flyers can’t, from a Japanese spy plane to what would appear to be a real-life monstrous gremlin making its way along the underside of the plane. But since the men are predisposed not to take her seriously — and they later find holes in her story regarding who she is and why she’s there — they don’t listen, at first.
And then things start happening, and “Shadow in the Cloud” kicks into high gear with a mix of air combat and creepy-crawlies that keep striking throughout the remainder of the film. Liang and editor Tom Eagles (“Jojo Rabbit”) keep the running time under 90 minutes, but they pack in enough thrills (and occasional moments of heart-in-the-throat suspense) for three other movies.
It’s a mix-and-match kind of film — like a Universal horror movie invading a Warner Bros. wartime adventure, marrying a 1940s story with a decidedly 1980’s score by Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper — but it all comes together. Even the script’s biggest WTF moment, involving the contents of Maude’s valise, gets a pass because it’s a bridge to some of the film’s most pulse-pounding moments.
Given that the film’s male cast (including Nick Robinson, Taylor John Smith, Beulah Koale and Byron Coll) spend most of the movie as off-screen voices, this is literally Moretz’s show, and she’s clearly enjoying getting to go full Sigourney Weaver, throwing tired gender stereotypes out the window as she nurtures with one hand while firing weapons and punching monsters with the other.
“Shadow in the Cloud” has that boisterous B-movie energy, and it’s a reminder that narrative shamelessness is permissible, even welcome, in the hands of an assured storyteller.