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.