Horror Review: Fear the Walking Dead S1E04-05 “Not Fade Away” & “Cobalt”


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“Sometimes all we can do is not enough.” — Dr. Bethany Exner

[some spoilers]

Fear the Walking Dead has been a mystery to some audiences and critics. If there was something the original series was criticized on it was that it’s writing throughout it’s current run has been uneven. There would be some great episodes and some good ones, but then some go nowhere episodes that stops any sort of momentum a particular season was having. The Walking Dead deserved some of the criticism leveled at it’s writing and how some of it’s characters appeared one-note for too long. Things began to improve once Scott M. Gimple took over a showrunner beginning with season 4. yet, some of the damage had been done by a very uneven first three season.

One thing The Walking Dead was never lacking was it’s creativity when it came to the zombies and the violence around them. Greg Nicotero and his KNB EFX crew never flinched from whatever hellish idea the writers were able to come up with. It’s probably one of the main reasons why the show has succeeded so much despite flaws in the writing and characterization. People were willing to tolerate the soap opera-style character interactions if it meant the flesh-eating and the headshots came a-plenty.

The first half of Fear the Walking Dead didn’t have much of the zombie action. It was a bold decision by the writers to stay on the path that brought the early days of the zombie apocalypse to life. This was a show that didn’t already have zombies taking over and with civilization having fallen by the wayside. It was still a world where everyone went about their daily routines. Sure the first episode gave some hints that something was amiss, but not until the final minutes did we finally see our first zombie. Even after that initial reveal at the end of the pilot the writers kept the zombies more off-screen. When they did appear it was as one or two.

Episodes four and five, “Not Fade Away” and “Cobalt”, continued this trend of keeping the zombies at arm’s length and off-screen. We saw Travis and Madison’s neighborhood turned into a safe zone by the National Guard who had been deployed to help contain and combat the spreading infection. Some took the military’s arrival with optimism (Travis) while others saw their arrival as a sign that things were just going to get worse and that things might already be too late to save (Daniel).

These two episodes were some of the strongest in this shortened first season of Fear the Walking Dead. We got to learn more about every character, but mostly we learned just how differently each parent of the core group reacted to the growing situation. These were reactions that were as varied and complex as any we’ve seen in any of the characters in The Walking Dead.

Each parent tried to do what they thought was best for their immediate family. On one end of the moral spectrum we had Travis who tried to serve as a sort of de facto mayor of the walled-off neighborhood. Become the person that would be the one who dealt with the military liaison when it came to his family’s and, to an extent, the neighborhood’s well-being. So far, throughout the this short first season, Travis has come across as the sort of enlightened, civilized man who tries to reason and talk things out instead of acting out rashly and on instinct. This sort of personality is what we as a society want to keep the wheels of civilization moving along problem-free. But as we’ve seen this has also become a weakness as things progressively begin to get worst. Travis can’t seem to see that the rule of law and reason seem to be fighting a losing battle with the need to survive.

Yet, despite Travis’ coming off as some sort of pacifist we get a hint of logic to his seeming weak-willed madness. He sees the world crumbling around him and as a father and role model he has tried to be that moral center to his circle of family and friends. Even when what he’s seeing chips away at his belief that those in power will protect and save them, Travis tries to remain that strong, moral center.

The opposite seems to be true for the other father in our group, Daniel Salazar. This character has been quite the revelation in this series. We first meet him in episode 2. He comes across as a leery, but good man like any immigrant in the US looking to make a new life for his family. But with each new episode we learn a bit more of what makes Daniel tick. He’s a father whose past history before coming to the US hints at chaos and bloodshed. He has seen how crisis could spiral out of control in a blink of the eye and he sees that now with the arrival of the military. He doesn’t trust too many outside his wife and daughter and when he does, as the case with Madison, he does so begrudgingly. He’s adaptable to the ever-changing situation the way Travis is not. He’s willing to resort to immediate action to solve a problem or to find a solution. There’s a darkness in him that’s the current situation has awoken once more and it terrifies him, but he allows it to emerge nonetheless in order to keep his family safe.

Throughout these two episodes we see the recurring theme of authority in its many forms (parental, civilian and military) trying to do their best to keep the situation from spiraling out of control, but they despite all their efforts they fail due to that basic flaw that humanity can’t seem to shred and that’s the inability to work together at the most dire situation to solve the problem.

Both Travis and Daniel try to do the best they know how to navigate through and around the encroaching apocalypse. They succeed in some way, but in the end all their efforts still don’t amount to much as everything right from the start of the crisis has been stacked against them. All they could do now is try and save those closest to them.

The question now as we head into the season finale is whose path will ultimately be the best one to navigate in this apocalypse.

Will it be the Way of the Open Palm that we seem be getting from Travis?

A path of sticking to one’s moral center and principles. To try and keep oneself from sliding back into one’s darker impulses as we’ve seen signs of in these two episodes.

Or will it be the Way of the Closed Fist that Daniel seem to be following?

A mentality that requires quick thinking and direct action even if it means allowing one’s darker side to take hold in order to survive. It’s a path that looks to be well-suited for this apocalypse, but one that also brings with it a set of unknown dangers.

So, while the series has so far lacked in major zombie action and the gore quotient has been tame in comparison to The Walking Dead, it has one-upped it’s older sibling by allowing for it’s cast to grow as characters. Whether they all turn out for the better remains to be seen, but in the span of 5 episodes they’ve become full-fledged characters and now the finale will see who will remain steadfast and who will break.

Notes

  • “Not Fade Away” and “Cobalt” were directed by Kari Skogland. Meagan Oppenheimer has writing duties on the former with David Wiener being responsible for the latter.
  • It’s been nine days since the events of episode 3 and it looks like both the National Guardsmen and the neighborhood are fraying at the edges. It doesn’t help that the unit commander is a reservist who also happens to be an LAPD policeman on a power-trip.
  • Still no sign of Tobias. It looks like his own place might be located in the unsafe and unwalled “dead zones” the military have been doing sweeping patrols for the past nine days.
  • Sandrine Holt comes in as Dr. Bethany Exner. Not her first time in a zombie production. She was also in Resident Evil: Apocalypse as Raccoon City news reported Terri Morales.
  • Ruben Blades is turning out to be the MVP of the series, so far. I guess being a government torturer in his native El Salvador during it’s time of troubles is turning to be a good skillset in the coming zombie apocalypse.

Season 1

Review: Fear the Walking Dead S1E03 “The Dog”


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“Good people are the first ones to die.” — Daniel Salazar

[some spoilers]

After a two week break we’re finally back to a new episode of Fear the Walking Dead. The show has so far been very consistent in establishing one simple fact about the most of the cast in this companion series. They are, deep down in their hearts, very good people. Travis is very much your typical enlightened man who shows compassion towards his family and others. Madison loves her family no matter the sort of trouble they find themselves in. The show in it’s third episode seem very intent on pushing against their very good-nature to see who will be the first to break.

“The Dog” finds both Travis and Madison separated during what looks like the first major outbreak of the zombie apocalypse. Travis has just found his estranged son and with his ex-wife have had to seek refuge in the boarded up barbershop of one Daniel Salazar and his own family. Madison waits back home in their East L.A. suburban home with her own two children. With such a truncated season the episode doesn’t wait too long to put the families of both Travis and Daniel in danger. The riots which broke out during the last episode have begun to spun out of control and businesses in the neighborhood have begun to get looted and burned. It’s during their attempt to flee the riot zone that we see the extent of the damaged caused by the continuing riots and more signs that rioters won’t be the only danger around these two men’s families.

Back with Madison we see her attempting to shield her daughter from the truth of what she has seen during the day (it’s been less than two days in series timeline since the events of the pilot episode). Her son Nick seems to understand more of what’s truly going on around them and is more than willing to be the one to voice the ugly truth to his mother. If they’re to survive the storm that’s coming then she needs to tell Alicia what she has seen. As with the events around Travis, Madison and her kids must soon flee their own home when an infected and turned neighbor has decided to follow the barking of a dog Nick had let into their  home.

Both sequences were edited with equal amount of tense-filled moments as Travis and Madison must rely on their protective instincts to try and keep their respective families safe. The scenes with Travis and his group fleeing the barbershop have much more of an action tone to them as rioters, looters and police clash all around their group. With the Clark family it’s a sequence that wouldn’t seem out of place from any horror film. We see how resourceful Madison is starting to become since her time during the visit back at her high school in the previous episode. Some of this resourcefulness seem born out of keeping up with her junkie son Nick who has taken the initiative to do the the best thing to keep the family alive.

The writers have so far written up Nick not just as a troubled, loser drug-addict of a son, but as a survivor. His very addiction and time spent out on the streets feeding his habit has given him a sort of advanced survivor instinct that many around him still haven’t developed. It’s very clear from the first half of the season that his sister Alicia is still quite clueless to the events happening around her. She still believes that she must cut loose from her troubled family and be with her boyfriend to start a new life. Even after seeing the results of those infected, one of which happens to be her boyfriend Matt, Alicia still denies what she has seen and heard. Madison, on the other hand, has had some first-hand experience of what’s going on and has begun to fully believe Nick and gradually adapting to the new reality descending on her family and the world.

Travis, on the other hand, continues to cling to his inner goodness. His compassion for his neighbor Peter Dawson, who he finds in Madison’s home eating the remains of the barking dog that attracted him to the house, almost gets him killed if not for the fast thinking of Daniel Salazar. We see contrasting fathers in Travis and Daniel in this sequence. Travis’ good-nature almost gets him killed while Daniel’s more pragmatic approach to the deteriorating situation around them saves everyone. Even the scene where Daniel tries to teach Travis’ son how to handle the shotgun speaks volume on the differences between the two men.

Travis is the enlightened and educated man who abhors guns and violence. Daniel, we learn through some brief exposition, has survived his home country or El Salvador when many of his family didn’t and has carved out a life for his family in a new country. Travis still thinks that those in power will settle things and get everything back to normal. He even comments in the end of the episode that the cavalry has arrived when the National Guard pulls into the neighborhood to search, isolate and destroy the infected. Daniel sees this and knows that whatever has begun with the riots has spun out of control and too late for everyone still hoping for a peaceful resolution.

Fear the Walking Dead has had a tough task of making itself feel both new and familiar to fans. On the one hand, the series does feel new from the fact that this is a world still inhabited mostly by the living. It’s a world still unaware of the storm bearing down on it. Yes, we’ve seen instances of zombies making an appearance, but never in the large numbers audiences have become used to from it’s parent series The Walking Dead. The familiarity comes from the audience seeing the chaos caused by these first moments of the zombie apocalypse. We as an audience has seen the result once civilization finally broke down. We know the rules of this world even if most of the characters in the show are oblivious or slowly learning about them.

It’s that very familiarity that could make or break the series. So far, the series writers have made each character’s reaction to the events these past couple days range from dangerously naive (Alicia) to hard survivor (Tobias) and everyone in-between. While for some viewers the very naivete that some characters exhibit despite what they’ve seen or heard could become frustrating, it does sow the seeds in filling in the blanks of why civilization fell. Mistrust helps in the populace not believing what those in power has been telling them. Yet, it looks like misguided optimism and compassion also might have had a hand in speeding up the zombie apocalypse.

We’re now halfway through the first season of Fear the Walking Dead and things have begun to move along faster than it’s parent series did with it’s first season. We still have slower scenes with people just talking, but the writers never linger too long before ramping up the tension. This companion series has had the advantage of working with a world still learning the rules which makes for some dread-inducing scenes which the parent series rarely had. With the back-end episodes of series set to start it’ll be interesting to see if the writers will continue to mine the theme and focus of this first season.

Will the good people be the first to die and if they don’t then how will these horrific events change them? Will it be for the better or for the worst?

We will just have to tune in the next three Sundays and see what happens.

Notes

  • Tonight’s episode was written by Jack LoGiudice and directed by Adam Davidson.
  • Nice sequence after fleeing the barbershop as Travis and his group slowly drive past a hospital and see the chaos unfolding as zombies (looking like both patients and healthcare workers) were confronted by responding LA police and SWAT. Earlier in this sequence we even see a brief glimpse of a doctor who looks to be a zombie staggering amongst the fleeing civilians and responding police yet remaining unnoticed by both.
  • The rioting, once we see it in full, doesn’t show whether the chaos is due just to the rioting or to the zombies amongst the rioters and riot police causing their own form of disturbance.
  • Neighbor Pete Dawnson being put down by Daniel Salazar with both barrels from an over-under Turkish shotgun marks the arrival of the series’ first gory moment. Some very nice work by the effects gurus from KNB EFX.
  • The point-blank headshot of Pete via shotgun blast was a nice homage to a similar shotgun blast to the head in the original Dawn of the Dead.
  • Funny how even though people heard the two shotgun blasts and the screams of their neighbors from the night earlier, some of them seem to still have to take the garbage out in the morning. I guess living in the city with it’s constant sounds of gunshots and screams have become routine for these Los Angelinos.
  • I guess the neighbor who had the party for their girl the day before and who was being attacked by neighbor Pete Dawson didn’t survive the night uninfected if the markings left by the National Guard was to be believed.

Season 1

Review: Fear the Walking Dead S1E02 “So Close, Yet So Far”


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“I’m about to step into a world of shit. You know that, right?” — Nick Clark

[some spoilers]

Is watching a zombie apocalypse unfold during it’s early days something that fans of the original series, The Walking Dead, want to actually watch happen? That was probably the least important question asked by AMC producers when they were brainstorming about how to take advantage of the pop-culture phenomena they had in their hands with The Walking Dead. This was a show that consistently beat every show it went up against and even manages to surpass some Sunday Night Football games in viewership.

The show enjoys viewership ratings of every type of metric one can think of that only the biggest network shows today can pull. Yet, the question remained of whether a second series exploring the world that Robert Kirkman created in his Image Comics title of the same name would have a similar reaction from fans. If the numbers brought in by the pilot episode of Fear the Walking Dead would be of any indication then the answer was a resounding yes.

The pilot episode of this new series introduced viewers to a cast of characters that wouldn’t look out of place from any family drama on network tv, cable or even the big-screen. It’s a world focused on the densely-packed Los Angeles area with all it’s different neighborhoods from glitzy and glamorous Hollywood and Beverly Hills to it’s surrounding middle-class areas like East L.A. and Venice Beach. One could substitute any major American city as location and we’ll still be able to relate to the opening narrative beats of an apocalypse descending on an unprepared populace.

Witnessing a zombie apocalypse in it’s early stages has it’s drawbacks and for some fans it’s the lack of the very zombie mayhem which made the original series so “must-see” that has become this companion series’ own weak point. Yet, there’s a logic and reason to the lack of zombies. It is the early days and the lack of zombies doesn’t mean the show lacks in tension and dread-building moments.

As Madison Clark’s drug-addict son succinctly says during the second episode, and could mean for the rest of the cast in the show, they’re all about to step into a world of shit.

“So Close, Yet So Far” jumps into literally right after both Madison Clark and Travis Manawa sees the truth in Nick’s words about what he witnessed in the drug den during the pilot episode. Their disbelief still governs some of their rash decisions (like splitting up to find other family members), but it also gives them a leg up on some of their neighbors and most everyone of the Greater Los Angeles area. Outside of Travis and Madison we’re given glimpses of others like Tobias (Madison’s paranoid but well-informed student), a next door neighbor looking to stock up and flee the city right up to a cop on-duty stocking up on water supplies. The city and the surrounding seem oblivious to the hell about to land on everyone, but that primordial part of everyone’s brain the says something is wrong seem to be working more efficiently for some.

The episode finds both Madison and Travis and their respective families split up when it looks like the zombie apocalypse is finally hitting it’s stride. Police actions turn into riots as civilian bystanders witness cops shooting (many, many times) and killing who look like innocent homeless people. As an audience we know better and it’s that knowing the rules of the game while those in the series are still so uneducated to the changes in this world of theirs which gives Fear the Walking Dead a fresher look at Robert Kirkman’s world.

This advance knowledge of this new world’s rules make for both a exhilarating and frustrating show. We wait for when the rest of the cast catch up in how to deal with the zombie apocalypse, but we also worry that some characters may not get the time spent during this shortened first season to survive. Rick Grimes was the lone babe in the woods in The Walking Dead. His family, best friend and the other survivors he has met with since he awoke from his coma already knew the basics on how to survive in this post-apocalyptic world. Madison, Travis, Nick, Alicia and the rest do not have the luxury of knowing what’s happening. They’ve seen examples of what’s coming, but they’re still dealing with it as if it’s your typical natural disaster. That everything will sort itself out in the end.

Tobias, our on-screen oracle, knows better and in just two episodes have become the audience’s proxy for a series cast full of babes in the woods. His very insular nature of spending way too much time on-line has given him an insight to this current calamity that everyone else around him seem oblivious and/or not extremely worried about. Whether Tobias survives the season has been left up in the air and with 4 episodes left in this inaugural season there’s not much time to dwell on who will live or who will die.

As we saw with Madison stopping Alicia from running out of the house to help a neighbor being attacked by another neighbor (the same one Travis saw earlier that day planning to get out of the city but already sick and infected) zombified, some have begun to worry about just protecting those closest to them and leaving the rest to fend for themselves.

Fear the Walking Dead has navigated a narrative that could get frustratingly old and stale with some great character work from it’s cast. Yes, even the annoying way the teenage children of the two leads have been written. The series has chosen to focus on the lives of your typical American family of the 21st century and that includes the annoyances and warts of parents and children.

Will fans continue to tune in without the zombies showing up more often? That will depend on whether show’s writers slows things down just as the apocalypse is hitting or just press the pedal to the floor and ride the zombie apocalypse wave and hope it lands with a bang instead of a whimper.

Notes

  • Tonight’s episode was written by Marco Ramirez and directed by Adam Davidson.
  • The episode’s cold opening of the high school principal walking the grounds of an empty high school made for an eerie sequence.
  • While it seems like instances of zombie attacks have been concentrated in the more densely populated city area of LA, we still saw some signs of it hitting the outer areas like East LA. Alicia’s boyfriend Matt being one on the way to turning.
  • Interesting way for the writers to incorporate the current climate of distrust the public have with law enforcement into the series with civilians protesting then rioting over cops shooting what they think were innocent people. Audiences know better and we see how this civil disturbance look like it’s adding to the chaos that helps the zombie apocalypse take a foothold in the city.
  • Always nice to see Ruben Blades on-screen.

Season 1

Review: Fear the Walking Dead S1E01 “Pilot”


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“We’re safer in numbers.” — Tobias

There’s a scene early on in the pilot episode of Fear the Walking Dead that really helps set the tone for what could be the running theme for this first season. We have the awkward high school student Tobias getting caught by his school guidance counselor (Madison Clark played by Kim Dickens) with bringing a knife to school. His reasoning after some prodding from Ms. Clark is that he didn’t bring the knife for protection from the school bully. He never outright says what, but his rambling about viruses, microbes, people dying and that it’s a situation that is spreading even sets Ms. Clark aback. Tobias truly believes that there’s a storm coming and that everything he has been preparing for will fall by the wayside. It’s not just his plans, but everyone’s.

Fear the Walking Dead has the difficult task of satisfying not just the legion of fans that make up the prequel series’ parent show, but also set it separate with it’s own identity from The Walking Dead. This show takes us, the viewers, back to the beginning when zombie apocalypse hadn’t landed on the world’s lap. It’s a look into the days gone bye that were only hinted and talked about in the The Walking Dead. Rick Grimes still in a coma, Glenn’s still delivering pizzas in Atlanta and Herschel still has an empty barn.

We find the world still turning and turning with it’s people oblivious of the storm looming over in the horizon. The worry about a prequel series is that as an audience who has seen five seasons of The Walking Dead we’ve learned how this encroaching world operates. We know that anyone who dies becomes a zombie (or walker, biter, etc) who will attack anyone living and propagate the outbreak. The writers of this new series must now try and convince this audience that the actions of the cast are not born out of stupid horror tropes, but on uneducated decisions during situations that they’re not prepared for.

The series focuses on the lives of what would be considered a typical American family. Two families trying to combine into one with children either resentful or apathetic to their parents’ attempts to create a new family from two broken ones. We witness the opening stages of The Walking Dead zombie apocalypse through their eyes as they go about the normal routine of their lives. Whether it’s going to school as a student or as a guidance counselor or a English teacher. This world we recognize as something we see everyday of our own lives.

The question the pilot begins to raise through some tense moments of dialogue is whether the world is prepared for the apocalypse that’s coming. In this world, as in the world of The Walking Dead, the term zombies and the rules governing them don’t exist. There’s no George A. Romero zombie films or Italian zombie knock-offs to help educated the masses through the years. This world has no analogue for the horror descending on them which should explain why some of their behaviors might seem frustrating to those who have watched horror and zombie films.

Yet, it’s through the characters’ very naivete about the crisis happening around them that looks to be a strength for the show. There’s no Rick Grimes, Shane, Daryl or Michonne to come in guns blazing and blade slicing to save the day. These characters must adapt quickly to this encroaching nightmare world or die. It’s as simple as that: adapt or die.

If tonight’s pilot episode stumbles a bit it’s through some of the backstory sequences that episode was trying to dump wholesale to the audience. The one major criticism that the original series continue to get from fans and detractors alike was how so many characters in the original series have been left underdeveloped. Pilot episode writers Robert Kirkman and David Erickson seem too intent on not making that same mistake with this series premiere, but it did lead to some major expositions that, at times, put the breaks on the episode’s forward momentum. It’s understandable to try and flesh out these characters before the zombie mayhem arrive in full-force, but the adage of showing rather than telling still goes a long way even when the intentions are good.

The zombie mayhem that fans of The Walking Dead have become used to appear quite sparse in this pilot episode. We see what we could call as “Patient Zero” for this series in the episode’s tense-filled first three minutes. We see glimpses of them in parks and from amateur video footage on the net. They’re not as spread out and coming at our cast in horde-like numbers. These people have nothing to fear from the walking dead. Yet, we sense throughout the episode that this outbreak has already started randomly all over the country (most likely around the world) and the very institutions meant to protect the population doesn’t have that very population’s trust. Misinformation and mistrust of institutions make for a dangerous recipe that the student Tobias knows full well.

Fear the Walking Dead has the luxury of having a built-up audience courtesy of the massive success of The Walking Dead. The question looming over the series is whether it will be able to use that head start and distinguish itself from it’s older brother series. We have five episodes left in this shortened first season (just like The Walking Dead) and we shall see if these characters will get tossed into the deep end as the crisis grows and grows. One thing Fear the Walking Dead shouldn’t do is to be deliberate. It’s the one mistake that The Walking Dead made during it’s first two seasons that it’s still trying to fix as we near the start of season 6.

Random Notes

  • Tonight’s premiere pilot episode was written by series creator Robert Kirkman and showrunner David Erickson with directing duties handled by Adam Davidson.
  • It’s great to see two veteran actors such as Cliff Curtis and Kim Dickens as the leads of a major project as Fear the Walking Dead. They’re definitely the anchor and foundation that this show will revolve around.
  • We get two shout outs to recent zombie films during the episode.
  • First one was the traffic jam when Travis and Maddy were trying to drive home only to have them stuck in traffic with helicopters overhead and police motorcycles driving past dangerously close to Travis’ truck. A scene similar to 2014’s World War Z.
  • Second one scene was of the faculty staff and some of the students watching videotaped footage of fire department personnel and police responding to the cause of the traffic jam only to have the supposed dead victim come back to life and bite one of the firemen. The scene looks eerily similar to footage from George A. Romero’s fifth zombie film, Diary of the Dead.
  • I do believe that was Lynn Chen from the Buzzfeed videos that was playing the nurse when Nick’s elderly roommate patient went into Code Blue.

Fear The Walking Dead Season 1 Trailer


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“When civilization ends…it ends fast.”

It was just a matter of time before AMC decided to mine their massive hit of a show, The Walking Dead, with spin-off to maximize it’s dominance over the tv landscape. We’ve been getting teasers leading up to San Diego Comic-Con where AMC released the first official trailer for this spin-off series titled Fear The Walking Dead.

This spin-off series will pull back time from the original series and have it set in the very beginning of the zombie outbreak which leads to the fall of civilization by the time Rick awakes from his weeks-long coma. It will also have it’s location as far and different from the backwoods and backroads of Georgia to Virginia where The Walking Dead is set. Instead this new series will have sunny Los Angeles as the setting. What better location than one of the most densely populated areas in the United States to show the first days and weeks of The Walking Dead timeline.

Unlike some who seem to be getting tired of the zombie craze of the past decade or so, I and a few others here at Through the Shattered Lens still enjoy this zombie apocalypse renaissance. Maybe it’s the inner doomsday preppers in some of us here in TSL that makes these types of shows and stories appealing.

Will Fear The Walking Dead succeed just as much as it’s older sibling? We shall find out when it premieres this August 23rd.

Film Review: Into the Storm (dir by Steve Quale)


Forgettable.

If I had to sum up Into the Storm in just one word, that’s how I would do it.  It’s only been a few hours since Jeff and I sat through Into the Storm and, as I sit here now trying to write this review, I am surprised by just how little of an impression this film made on me.  Even the special effects, which did impress me while I was watching the film, are good without exactly being memorable.   There is only one scene that I can remember almost perfectly, in which a veteran storm chaser (Matt Walsh, who is wonderful on Veep) takes advantage of a small moment of calm to look at nature and allows himself one quick smile before Oklahoma gets hit by another tornado.  It’s probably the only genuinely human moment in the entire movie.  Unfortunately, it’s only a few seconds in an 89-minute film.

Into the Storm is a found footage film, in which the small town of Silverton, Oklahoma is struck by a few dozen tornadoes, which all eventually merge into one big tornado.  Fortunately, everyone in the film has an excuse to justify continually running towards the tornadoes while holding up their cell phones and shouting, “Are you getting this!?”

For instance, there’s Pete the storm chaser who needs to get some amazing footage of tornado mayhem, otherwise the whole storm  “season” will have been a waste for him.  Accompanying Pete are the usual gang of doomed cameramen and a meteorologist (Sarah Wayne Callies) who has left behind her five year-old daughter so she can chase wall clouds across the southwest.  And then there’s two dumbass rednecks (Jon Reep and Kyle Davis), who desperately want to be YouTube sensations.  And, of course, let’s not forget the graduating class of Silverton High School.  SHS’s principal (Scott Lawrence) is a dead ringer for Barack Obama, which is perhaps why he proves to be totally ineffectual when it comes to dealing with natural disasters in Oklahoma and Texas.  The vice-principal (Richard Armitage) is the father of two sullen teenagers (Jeremy Sumpter and Nathan Kress) and you better believe that the whole experience makes them into a stronger family unit…

None of the characters are particularly interesting or even likable but that’s really not supposed to matter, is it?  This is the type of film where you’re supposed to be so pleased with the special effects that you’re willing to overlook the bad dialogue and predictable plot, right?  Well, if that’s the case, then why does it take so long for the tornadoes to actually show up?  Why do we spend so much time getting to know these thoroughly vapid and uninteresting characters?  And why, oh why, does this film have to end with the survivors looking over the ruins of their city and talking about how this whole experience has inspired them to embrace life?  It seems like they could have just as easily learned the same thing from reading a greeting card.  Was it really necessary for a tornado to come down and probably kill 60% of the town just so they could be taught such an obvious lesson?

Trust me, I grew up and I live in Tornado Alley.  Not a year has passed that I haven’t had to spend at least one day stuck inside and waiting for word as to whether or not a tornado is going to dip down into my part of the world and potentially kill me and everyone I love.  (Just a few months ago, I literally spent an hour and a half huddled underneath a desk while listening to the mournful wail of the tornado sirens going off outside.)  I’ve also seen firsthand the unbelievable damage that tornadoes can do.  Walk up to real tornado survivors and tell them, preferably while they’re standing in front of the rubble that used to be their home, that their misfortune has inspired you to enjoy every day of your life.  Just see how they react.

The film is directed by Steve Quale, who first came to prominence working under James Cameron.  Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, therefore, that he seems to be more comfortable with CGI than with actual human beings.  But still, Quale’s debut as a director — Final Destination 5 — was actually a pretty effective little horror film that featured some surprisingly witty and clever moments.  Little of the skill that Quale displayed in Final Destination 5 is on display here in Into The Storm.  I’m not a huge fan of the whole found footage thing to begin with (occasionally you get a Devil’s Due but most found footage films are more like Paranormal Activity The Marked Ones) but if you are going to make a film in that style, at least play by the rules.  As directed by Quale, the majority of the film is directed to look like found footage and, hence, it suffers from all of the problems that we tend to associate with found footage.  But, jarringly and almost at random, Quale occasionally abandons the whole found footage conceit and suddenly, we’re just watching an ordinary film.  For found footage to work as a genre, you can’t remind the audience that it’s essentially a gimmick that’s often used to make excuses for sloppy filmmaking.  And, for too often, that’s exactly what this film does.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I guess Into The Storm is okay for what it is.  After all, the film wasn’t advertised as being a great film.  It hasn’t been mentioned as a potential Oscar nominee or anything.  The commercials promised footage of tornadoes destroying a town and that’s what this film eventually gets around to showing.  Plus,  it didn’t feature any talking turtles and that’s definitely a plus.  But, at the same time, I think those of us in the audience are justified in occasionally asking for something more than merely okay.

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