By DEIRDRE CRIMMINS
While it might have been very easy for a horror film set in an airborne plane during WWII to get serious and gritty, SHADOW IN THE CLOUD is not that film. Director Roseanne Liang – who took the reigns after disgraced filmmaker Max Landis exited the project – has an ear for character and an eye for over-the-top action and creature attacks that saves the film from being generic and forgettable; pumping it up into the league of unapologetically campy entertainment. The kiwi filmmaker recently took the time to chat with us all the way from New Zealand about inheriting the project, the societal toll of Marvel movies, and how heroism is often messy.
When did you get involved in this production?
I had new representation in Hollywood. I’m from New Zealand, and it is not really typical for someone like me to get representation in Hollywood. I was receiving scripts, to possibly direct, and put my take on. This script came across my desk in 2018. I responded to it straight away. It is a very unusual way of telling a story. It starts in a confined space and then breaks out into some bonkers action territory. It also spoke to me as a woman. It really did. It spoke to me as a mother. It spoke to me as a woman who has been treated with not the greatest respect, in certain situations. Not that I wanted to make it about me a victim. It just spoke to me. I felt like anyone could sit inside Maude’s [Chloë Grace Moretz] head if I was able to make this movie properly. That’s what attracted me to it.
Even without the more fantastical elements, SHADOW IN THE CLOUD would still be a horror film. The characters are at war, and the men still isolate Maude on the plane. Similarly to Psycho, we have her stealing money and making a getaway…
I hadn’t thought of the parallel, but you are right! It starts really quiet and then goes, well, psycho!
Since the bulk of the film is set on a plane, did you go back to entrapped or single-location horror films to study before production?
She is trapped, and she’s trapped in the air! I mostly looked at movies like Locke. That was more about sustaining and telling a story through one point of view. We had to be sure we were in his head the whole time. Buried was another one that I watched. The claustrophobia is a big deal there. Locke is different because he chooses to be in that car, but morally he has no choice. He could drive anywhere and get out of the car, whereas in Buried he is trapped. His claustrophobia is metaphorical. The systems in which we exist are hopeless. It is too hard, and sometimes you just feel like giving up.
In the first act of SHADOW IN THE CLOUD Maude is physically alone, but she is always talking to the crew. It is almost like a radio play.
She’s not alone, but she is isolated. In fact, when we start hearing the men, she [as a woman] is more isolated and more “othered” than is fair. They could feel like she was part of the crew if they were so inclined, but they don’t.
What important changes did you make to the script before shooting?
I needed to strengthen her internal logic, and also strengthen the logic of the men. They were this amorphous wolf pack. Why did there need to be seven of them? And we never see them, really. The logistical bled into the creative as well, because we had to get seven different voices and cast seven different people, but do we even need them? I started thinking a lot about the other side of misogyny, and how these men are a product of their times. They think a certain way. There was a producing team made up of men and women, but when I talked to the male producers this really interesting thing happened – men’s behavior changes when they are in a pack together. They either want to one-up each other or impress each other. I felt that was a really fascinating part of it. It is really easy for people to either dismiss misogyny or talk about feminism as just misandry. In fact, feminism has become synonymous with misandry and that is a sad polarization of our society, I think. Making the men more complicated and making them different from each other was important. Of course, there is the gremlin, and we can talk about all the metaphors of the gremlin, but that was what I primarily worked on in the script: strengthening internal logic and making [sure] the other side made sense, and weren’t just shallow.
“I used to think that evil was when someone took joy [in] someone else’s pain, but there is an evil in apathy.”
Over the end credits, you have archival footage of the women who really did fly during the war. Maude is a strong woman, but there is also a long history of strong women like her.
This was a historical element that I didn’t even know about. I think that is a crying shame, and there should be more movies about the female air force during the war. I’ve never seen that movie. I’ve seen a ton of movies about men in the war, with their wives. But these women were actually flying planes, by themselves, sometimes over enemy territory, sometimes landing at night with no landing lights. And they didn’t have a crew with them, they were flying solo most of the time. This movie shouldn’t be a “lest we forget” movie. It shouldn’t be a historical story. But it certainly threw up interesting ideas. When we talk about war we generally talk about men.
It’s funny because one of my notes while watching the film was, “The real monster is misogyny.”
Exactly. I think I deepened it a little bit to id, the Freudian basic part of ourselves. Id does what it wants when it wants. It eats when it wants, it screws when it wants, it pees when it wants. It is not a good place for society to be. Servicing the id has unbalanced the fact that we need to live with each other and we need to get along. Id eats so much evil in this world, I think. If you can define what evil is, evil is always people. The monsters are people. I used to think that evil was when someone took joy [in] someone else’s pain, but there is an evil in apathy. An apathetic reaction to someone’s pain is just as evil as a deliberate celebration of someone’s pain.
There is an undercurrent of selfishness there.
And it is so easy for people to do these days. When someone cannot put themselves in other people’s shoes. It is not even laziness. It is something altogether different. It is so surprisingly easy for people to do to one another.
It is hard to hear you talk about that and not relate it to our respective countries and their responses to COVID-19. Here, people won’t wear a mask or stay home, even though it could help people.
I wonder if we are responsible for that. I mean in terms of moviemaking, individualism rules, and the one chosen leader will always win. I worry that all the superhero stories we have been telling are feeding into the idea that, “what I get to do is the most important thing” above all others. That’s not necessarily true. When you think about Marvel it is about service, but the value of service to others is underplayed. And about “virtue signaling,” if signaling virtue is the worst thing you could do. What is wrong with virtue? What is the problem here? Because you are fake? Is that evil?
Are you a horror fan?
Yes, I am. I don’t watch everything horror, but I do actively seek out horror at the cinema.
What do you hope the audience takes away from the film?
I hope that they will have enjoyed themselves. I want this not to be a movie that they have to get through. [Laughs] Entertainment is a big factor. I want them to take away a sense that messiness is ok, and messiness can be heroic. Everyone in this world is suffering some kind of trauma, to varying degrees. I’m hoping that when they watch this movie it will be a release of sorts. We have this strength inside ourselves. We do. Sounds kinda cheesy. But we can face and fight our monsters. We are more powerful than we realize.
SHADOW IN THE CLOUD is available now on Hulu. Read our review here.