So, I give you the same advice. Even though it’s no longer in cinemas, seek it out by whatever means possible and try not to read up on it at all before you see it. In the meantime, I’ll try and say as little as possible about the film whilst offering my thoughts about why I think it’s so good.
I can tell you some things. It’s set in August 1943, so a couple of years before the atomic bomb would bring the war to an end in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In an opening credit sequence we get to see a black and white cartoon training film in that WW2 era American animation style. It’s a cartoon that reminds us that USAF aircrews often blamed what they called ‘gremlins’ for those inexplicable mechanical failures that took place from time to time. The action that follows (and there’s plenty of it) takes place aboard a B-17 Bomber on a flight from New Zealand to Samoa. The crew is your stock standard band of oddballs, loudmouths and misfits with one exception – late entry, Maude Garrett (Chloë Grace Moretz) a mysterious woman carrying a top-secret parcel. No-one seems to know why she’s on board, some question whether she’s really who she says she is, and most of them flex their misogynistic muscles by giving her a ribald hard time; all except nice guy Walter Quaid (Taylor John Smith). I think that’s about all I want to tell you about the story, except to say that before long some pretty scary things start to happen that are as much to do with an encounter with Japanese fighter planes as they are to do with the possibility that there’s something else on board that no-one was expecting. Oh, and of course, we’re all wondering what’s in that top-secret package.
Moretz, who often plays vulnerable or damaged young women in films like The Equalizer (2014), The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018) and the remake of Suspiria (2018) is perhaps best known for her superhero work as Hit Girl in Kick Ass (2010) and Kick Ass 2 (2013). In this film, she brings both these sets of skills together in a character that is reminiscent of Geena Davis as Samantha Caine in Renny Harlin’s The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996). She’s a terrific actor and this performance is compelling, especially during a long sequence where she has to carry the film on her own with almost no space for physicalisation. It’s a cracker of a sequence, but it’s not the only one.
This film is a real surprise. On the surface it’s a World War Two adventure but that genre is laced with generous servings from both the thriller genre and the horror genre PLUS it’s pretty funny when it wants to be. The cast (many of whom are not familiar faces) work well as an ensemble but it’s worth noting that in addition to great performances from both Moretz and Smith, there’s a standout role for Byron Coll as the curmudgeonly, hard- bitten Sergeant Major Terrence Taggart. They’re helped along by a tight and well paced screenplay co-written by Liang and Max Landis (although I was surprised not to see a nod to Richard Matheson in there for what this screenplay owes to a rather famous short script of his from the Twilight Zone days (along with several remakes). There’s also some impressive cinematography from Kit Fraser who is completely undaunted by the limitations of the tight and claustrophobically small spaces the set offers to the camera.
Of course, as you might expect in a film like this, plausibility is often put to the test, but Liang strikes such a deft tone with her direction that events and sequences that might otherwise pull the rug out from under, become moments of sheer delight and, in some cases, edge-of-your-seat suspense.
In the end, this is a hard film to pigeon-hole in terms of style and genre and an almost impossible film to talk about in any detail without spoiling the ride. But underneath all this it’s also a celebration of the contribution women made to the war effort and the roles and responsibilities they took on. Within the narrative, that aspect of the film may fall solely on the shoulders of Maude Garrett, but during the end credit sequence it’s amplified by some great images of real women doing real jobs in and around flying war mahcines in the forties.
Sadly, I suspect the timing of this film’s release – one of the first films to be thrown up on the screen for real live audiences who were keen to make their way back into cinemas after such a long closure – will have meant that it won’t have been seen by anywhere near the audience it deserves. But isn’t that what the streaming service are for? See it when you can but, more than not just giving away the end... make sure you don’t give away any of the surprises that happen along the way.