In 1963, Rod Serling introduced us to an episode of the Twilight Zone that would become rather ubiquitous to the pop culture zeitgeist. Nightmare at 20,000 Feet has been parodied, retold, and reimagined so much so that the very concept of a gremlin on the wing of a plane feels like an idea that has always existed and permeated pop culture. The New Zealand flick Shadow in the Cloud has taken a while to get off the ground for a number of reasons; but, after at long last taking flight into cinemas, does the latest spin on the Twilight Zone classic soar to heights its predecessors couldn’t or does it crash and burn?
I want to start by saying that Shadow in the Cloud was a rather enjoyable film overall. After the 2017 sexual assault allegations were made against screenwriter Max Landis, the film had to undergo several rewrites—which becomes very evident as the film rolls on. There are a lot of ideas and different concepts at play here in Shadow in the Cloud, which is part creature flick, part war film, part bottle movie, and part female-empowerment film.
The movie follows Chloe Grace Moretz as Flight Officer Maude Garret during the height of World War II, as she embarks on a confidential delivery mission aboard a cargo flight from Auckland to Samoa on a plane named The Fool’s Errand. Upon boarding the plane, she is met with hostility from the men aboard who are all pretty much terrible human beings—except one by the name of Quaid who agrees to take care of her parcel—and demand she stay in the Sperry turret of the plane for the duration of the flight.
From here on out, the majority of the film takes place in the claustrophobic confines of the Sperry. Moretz is left alone down there as the camera stays with her, only allowing us to hear the rest of the crew over the comms line. It creates a claustrophobic feel, and matters only become worse when she realises there is a gremlin aboard the plane.
The film bounces around different styles and, seemingly, genres over the course of the next hour or so, as Moretz’s Maude Garrett must deal with the countless mishaps occurring on board the plane and around it—be it the gremlin or the sudden appearance of Japanese fighter planes. There are definitely some moments where the rewrites show because the film’s message and overall trajectory seems to change on a moment’s notice, before ultimately ending on a theme of the strength of motherhood and empowerment of women, whilst celebrating women in the military.
There are some major twists that take place during the film—which I won’t spoil—but I found myself really drawn into the suspense of the situations unfolding here, and felt that Shadow in the Cloud did genuinely separate itself from the Nightmare at 20,000 Feet original with all of its additional elements. However, at times, it does feel as though the gremlin takes a back seat to whatever else the film suddenly decides to focus on, which left me wondering what exactly the gremlin was doing right and why wasn’t it continuing its attack. That said, the climactic fight at the end between Moretz and the gremlin was more than worth the price of admission alone.
All in all, Shadow in the Cloud is a film that was clearly reworked and, at times, feels like several entirely different films stitched together. That said, it didn’t stop it from being a hell of a good time and a really entertaining action flick to watch during a time where there isn’t much point in heading into the cinemas. It may not live up to the classics that it pays homage to, but it is an enjoyable enough ride that it is still more than worth your time.