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‘Shadow in the Cloud’: Flight officer fights off boors and beasties in a wonderfully bonkers B-movie

Chloe Grace Moretz takes charge as the passenger battling the gremlins menacing her WWII plane.

Flight Officer Maude Garrett (Chloe Grace Moretz) is entrusted to board a B-17 with a top secret package in “Shadow in the Cloud.”
Vertical Entertainment/Redbox Entertainment

One of the most famous episodes of “The Twilight Zone” was the 1963 classic titled “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” with a pre-“Star Trek” William Shatner playing an airline passenger returning home after a six-month stay at sanitarium who swears he has seen a gremlin on the wing of the plane, trying to disable one of the engines. (The episode was reprised in the 1983 “Twilight Zone” movie, with John Lithgow playing the role of the agitated passenger.)

Although the entertainingly bonkers feature “Shadow in the Cloud” is an original story, it’s basically “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” in a World War II setting, with Chloe Grace Moretz playing the part of the ostensibly hysterical passenger who swears there’s a gremlin (maybe more than one) lurking in the skies, hell-bent on attacking the aircraft and killing everyone onboard. It’s the first killer B-movie of 2021.

The year is 1943, and Moretz’s Flight Officer Maude Garrett is an unwelcome guest of the all-male crew on a B-17 Flying Fortress named “The Fool’s Errand” (and oh is that name a harbinger of things to come) taking off from New Zealand. Maude has been tasked with transporting a Top Secret package that must not be opened under any circumstances because it’s the MacGuffin of this movie — but there’s not enough room in the Sperry turret for both Maude and package, so Taylor John Smith’s Quaid tells Maude he’ll safeguard the valuable cargo while she’s wedged into the tiny enclosure.

For about half the film, “Shadow in the Cloud” director Roseanne Liang keeps the camera focused solely on Maude in that cramped turret as Maude hears the boorish male crew members making lewd jokes about her (they forgot she has a headset, but it doesn’t really matter to them when they’re busted) and laughing off her reports of some mysterious creature — maybe even an actual gremlin — hovering about the plane. It’s a wondrous performance by Moretz, who establishes Maude as a resourceful badass who has endured sexism and abuse for much of her life and refuses to let her tormentors define her.

Moretz also looks every part the 1940s movie star, even as Maude springs into action a la Ripley in “Aliens” and performs increasingly implausible feats of strength and heroism, whether she’s improvising ways to stay alive, shooting down Japanese fighter planes — or doing battle with a veritable army of truly terrifying CGI creatures that resemble giant flying rabid bat-rats. At times it’s difficult to distinguish one male flight crew member from another, as they exist only as voices on the radio for much of the film, but Nick Robinson distinguishes himself as the sexist lout Stu Beckell, who’s a million miles away from the usual modern and likable and sensitive characters Robinson has played in films such as “Love, Simon” and the recent series “A Teacher.”

The deeper “Shadow in the Cloud” dives into sci-fi fantasy territory, the more we’re asked to just go with it and enjoy the spectacularly choreographed action sequences — but thanks in large part to Moretz’s ferociously effective work, we’re all too happy to take that zany ride.