'Into the Storm'
‘Into the Storm’ is a lean 90-minute ode to the joys of watching stuff get smashed and go boom. Sure, it has a plot and some characters, but those pesky dramatic elements are little more than a distraction for both the filmmakers and audience. All that the folks behind the movie were truly focused on was crafting the finest digital destruction money can buy, and since that’s really all that viewers who show up for it will care about, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
First off, it has to be acknowledged that ‘Into the Storm’ is a Found-Footage movie, even though all of the studio’s marketing materials have gone out of the way to conceal that fact. The footage in question comes from a number of sources. First up is a team of documentary filmmakers/tornado chasers (led by Matt Walsh from ‘Veep’) traveling around in a suped-up mini-tank and van covered with cameras. Then there’s a broken family consisting of a single father/vice principal (Richard Armitage) and his two sons—distinguishable only by their haircuts—who he’s harangued into filming the high school’s graduation (although one of them played by Max Deacon sneaks off to help a pretty girl shoot a school project instead, which takes place at an abandoned factory for dramatic purposes). Finally comes a pair of redneck morons who film stunts for YouTube.
Between those three groups, enough cameras are kicking around to shoot an entire mock-doc disaster movie when a historic multi-tornado storm hits their small town to blow stuff around real good. The movie has are a few hastily constructed back stories and inter-character tensions. (One of the filmmakers misses her daughter a bunch; one of the sons gets stuck in a hole; etc.) However, they’re all written with the dramatic subtlety and naturalistic dialogue of a SyFy movie. Whenever the flick takes a few seconds to pause for plot and characterization, it’s either a tedious distraction or laughably bad stab at storytelling.
On a script level, ‘Into the Storm’ is pretty awful. Thankfully, it slots into a genre for which that doesn’t really matter. This is an effects movie, and in director Steven Quale, Warner Bros. hired a master of digital set-pieces. Quale got his start helping James Cameron mount his massive blockbusters from ‘The Abyss’ through ‘Avatar’ and his first directorial outing was ‘Final Destination 5’, a film that delivered astounding 3D kill scenes as well as a plot so indistinct that I couldn’t remember it with a gun to my head. He’s a filmmaker who knows how to use all of his expensive Hollywood toys, and treats ‘Into the Storm’ as a show-off piece. He barely even follows the Found-Footage aesthetic, delivering a movie shot in far too smooth and clear a manner to ever resemble the look of a prosumer camera, and quite often doesn’t even bother to explain who’s supposed to be holding the camera. That’s actually a good thing, because it means that this visual effects showcase is shot with enough style and clarity to deliver a genuine thrill ride, which you can’t even say about most non-Found Footage blockbusters today. In fact, the only reason that Quale seems to use the Found-Footage style is as an excuse to employ a pile of POV shots that make his film feel even more like a theme park ride.
Indeed, once ‘Into the Storm’ transforms into a stormsploitation flick, it can be pretty damn impressive. Scenes involving high schools crumbling, entire airports getting sucked into the sky, tornadoes catching fire, and folks strapped with cameras getting sucked through a tornado into the sky are absolutely astounding. The effects and sound design are simply stunning, and Quale knows exactly how to stage them for maximum visceral impact. Those scenes are the only reason anyone would buy a ticket and they certainly do not disappoint, topping the money shots in ‘Twister’ by a mile.
It’s hard to describe the movie as a failure, even though everything other than the effects sequences is a waste of time. I’d suggest waiting until Blu-ray, where chapter select can cut the running time down to 40 minutes of money shots. However, the movie also demands and deserves to be seen on the biggest possible screen. So, maybe take micro-naps when the characters are talking? Any scene worth watching is easily loud enough to wake you up anyway. Seems like the wisest approach.