The setup seems simple enough: Here’s Maude: a determined young woman in a pilot’s jacket, marching across a runway with a leather satchel. She climbs aboard a B-17 bomber — that oh-so-cinematic of warplanes — and insists that her package contents are classified. After the flight crew — all men — flare up predictably with with scorn and sexism, they begrudgingly accept her credentials. But they refuse her anything more than a flicker of respect. And soon, Maude’s consigned to to the seat of a ball turret gunner — that spherical cell protruding beneath the plane like a barnacle on a ship.

If “ball turret gunner” sounds like a euphemism, it might as well be one: Poor Maude is subjected to a barrage of sexual harassment over her headphones to the point that we have to wonder who the real “enemies” are in this scenario. As we watch her suffer in close-up, she begins to resemble Falconetti’s anguished Joan of Arc — tortured by her leering, satanic jury. Strapped into that claustrophobic’s nightmare, Maude spends the first half of the movie barely able to move, which makes things seem so much worse when she is persecuted by a vicious gremlin.

Maude prepares to climb into the belly of the B-17 beast. [Image from the Roadshow Films trailer.]

What could go wrong? Will Maude be abused by her crew? Yes. Will they seek to discredit her? Yes. Will the crew become divided in their willingness to cooperate with her? Yes. Will that endanger their safety? Yes. Will the gremlin damage the plane? Yes. Will enemy planes attack them even though these bombers believe they’re safely out of range? Uh-huh. Will the Mystery Box be opened against Maude’s strict instructions? What do you think?

And I haven’t really spoiled anything: Those are the turns you can see coming.

Okay — someone’s probably still stuck on the fact that I dared mention this over-the-top action thriller in the same sentence as that most sacred of cinematic works: The Passion of Joan of Arc. Shadow in the Cloud is made in the tradition of Saturday-matinee cliffhangers that throw plausibility out the window in order to keep audience guessing and gasping, as if the theater is actually an amusement park ride. It’s as ridiculous and excessive as Dreyer’s art film is earnest and austere. But I stand by the comparison if only to highlight the remarkable commitment of actress Chloë Grace Moretz to the role of Maude. What makes this film unusually compelling is how Moretz brings such conviction to her performance that we want to see how she comes out of this even as the world around her poses greater and greater threats to our suspension of disbelief. If I were just describing the narrative, it would seem like one of those goofball “so-bad-it’s-good” entertainments. But Moretz makes it all worthwhile, treating this as the sort of audition that will expand the range of films she headlines in the future.

Maude, locked up in her gun turret, an easy target for enemy gunners and, as it turns out, gremlins. [Image from the Roadshow Films trailer.]

There are other things to admire here: Director Roseanne Liang and cinematographer Kit Fraser keep things compelling even during the hour that Maude’s stuck in cramped quarters. Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper’s synthesizers stir up good John Carpenter vibes. And when the gremlin is mysterious, a shadowy symbol of trauma, it’s sufficiently creepy. (The more literal it becomes, and the more clearly we see it, the more disappointing and ridiculous it seems.) The special effects overall are just sharp enough to strike a balance between the convincing and the absurd. The sound design, while chaotic, works well to put us in mind of what the world must sometimes feel like to women forced to manage in contexts where men feel empowered to disrespect and abuse them.

One of the film’s greatest strengths is that is is blessedly short — only 82 minutes. (And, frankly, the last ten minutes should have been either trimmed or reimagined, as they give the film a bumpy, cringe-inducing conclusion.) I suspect this erratic flight might lose a few viewers in its turbulence. But if you can accept that the movie isn’t really interested in plausibility, and that it just wants to get audiences cheering for its persecuted heroine as she unleashes her inner Ripley — fighting misogynists, dismantling idiots, and punching gremlins in the face — well, I think you’ll have fun with it.

You’re going to wish that you too had a seatbelt for this flight. [Image from the Roadshow Films trailer.]

Some of you may be wondering if this is some kind of remake. Haven’t we seen a gremlin tormenting passengers and crew before? The film admits its inspirations, opening with footage from a classic animated short in which a monster haunts a warplane pilot. That concept has inspired other takes, including a well-known episode in the Steven Spielberg anthology series Amazing Stories. But this is the most elaborate version yet imagined for the screen.

The only real misgivings I have about the film stem from a name in the credits: Max Landis, who is listed as a co-writer with Liang. Landis has disgraced himself with abusive behavior towards women. And for a while I was worried that he might be trying to perform penance by making a movie about woman standing up to a gang of ugly misogynists. But it didn’t take long to find details that set the record straight: Liang made this movie after rewriting whatever initial script Landis had written. I don’t know how much of what we’ve seen came from his original draft, but I don’t really care. This final product makes misogynists look wretched, and rightfully so.

Unwanted cargo: Maude tries to shake off the flight’s stowaway gremlin. [Image from the Roadshow Films trailer.]

Quite a few actors have given demanding performances in confined spaces — Tom Hardy in Locke, Colin Farrell in Phone Booth, Ryan Reynolds in Buried, Brie Larson in Room — making Shadow in the Cloud the latest entry in an unusual genre. But Moretz distinguishes herself impressively. While the narrative around her seems to have been designed by storytelling gremlins more interested in mischief than meaning, eager to bend everything to the breaking point, Moretz seems to be daring the screenwriters to come up with demands that she cannot handle. The farther this airplane hurtled through space, the more eager I was to see how far she was willing to go. And, almost as if she sensed me watching, Maude eventually growled at the screen “You have no idea how far I’ll go!

She was right.

Bonus: If you’re riding the Kate Bush high provided by the latest season of Stranger Things, you’ll love the end-credits sequence here.