“We need a tornado!” a character screams early in Steven Quale’s Into the Storm, demanding that a twister touch down close enough to be filmed (from every angle, by every camera) so that he can profit off of the inevitable destruction it will cause. It is, perhaps, an uncomfortable demand, but it’s also hilariously prescient. There are tornadoes in Into the Storm, whole scads of them, but everything that happens in between them is the real cause of annihilation (of audience engagement, to be clear).
Into the Storm is ostensibly made up of found footage, and while that claim (and, yes, it’s a pretty spurious one) means that we’re stuck with plenty of scenes that look as if they were traditionally and professionally filmed, it also means that we get plenty of scenes that look as if they were traditionally and professionally filmed. It’s shockingly smoothly shot, and even supposedly high-octane disaster footage looks as if it was made, well, for a Hollywood movie. Even when tornado after tornado strikes the small town of Silverton – this is the best approximation of a “plot” we can describe – things still look good. It’s paradoxically pleasing, because while the false immediacy of found footage sounds appropriate, the shakiness that comes with it can wear.
The found footage conceit might be highly questionable, but it at least works to bring together a myriad of supposedly unrelated characters, all of whom are toting cameras for different reasons, all of whom should just get the hell out of the way when a twister comes roaring at them. There’s the Fuller family – dad Gary (Richard Armitage), boring older son Donnie (Max Deacon), and goofy younger son Trey (Nathan Kress) – who are all dealing with various interpersonal relationships when the twisters come, along with a crew of stormchasers led by Matt Walsh, and a pair of morons bent on Internet notoriety. The Fullers are into filming because, well, that’s what the teens like these days, though neither of the boys exhibits any interest in other forms of technology. For high school vice principal Gary, that’s a good thing, because it means he can force his sons to do video-heavy projects like shooting a time capsule piece (that’s one way to get to know your characters) and filming the high school graduation ceremony that will take place, come hell or high water (or, yes, tornadoes). The stormchasers tape tornadoes by trade (though they appear to be really bad at it) and YouTube losers Donk (Kyle Davis) and Reevis (Jon Reep) are convinced their future will come care of a popular Internet video. They all have cameras, and they’re all about to focus them on some monster tornadoes.
Although the paths of the various characters crisscross over the film’s runtime, banging into each other like pieces of wind-swept shrapnel, all roads lead to the stormchasers, probably because they’ve got the most cameras and a tank-like vehicle to hitch them on to. Whereas Twister worked hard to make each member of Jo and Bill’s crew feel unique and memorable (and had an A-plus cast to really drive that home), Pete’s (Walsh) group blends together into one indistinguishable mass (there’s a woman? and also two guys who look like models?), and one entire character seemingly disappears for a long stretch, at least until there’s a bit of an opening in the group that he can slip back into.
The stormchasers’ mission is also lacking – and, again, not to spend too much time harping on Twister, that film made its characters’ aims and reasons clear very quickly – and while Pete spouts off about wanting to help humanity with his work, it’s unclear how filming tornadoes will help things. Just say you want to make a cool documentary, Pete, just say it. You want it to look cool. You don’t care what happens.
In attempting to root us in reality (at least a little bit), Into the Storm makes plenty of time for the three Fuller men, which winds into a bit of a “you win some, you lose some” outcome. Armitage’s Gary is engaging enough (particularly for a vice principal with family problems), and he’s got a solid presence, especially when matched up with Sarah Wayne Callies (the lovely brain behind the stormchasers) and Kress (who is amusing), but Deacon’s performance should have been scrapped before it was allowed to permeate the entire narrative. Donnie and his weak-willed love interest Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam Carey) are not compelling, the kind of idiotic characters that would die early on in a horror film, simply because they make too many moronic decisions to feasibly stay alive. To put it simply: it’s never a good thing when you want characters to die in a film, especially the kind you know you’re meant to cheer for. The tornadoes are easier to root for than Donnie and Kaitlin.
And those tornadoes! Into the Storm definitely takes the bigger-is-badder approach, bulking up its twisters into ever-increasing sizes, putting down multiple tornadoes at once, and finally just smacking two big guys together to make a furious funnel of miles-wide destruction. Here is a big tornado, but here is a bigger one. The science of the film itself is weaker than a gentle spring breeze, but all we need to know is that weather is weird now, buzzword about Hurricane Katrina, mention Hurricane Sandy, be done with it (does that sound garbled? that’s basically how it’s delivered in the film).
The actual tornados don’t look so great – they swirl too symmetrically, their color seems off, they just look like pure CGI – but the destruction that they create is genuinely jaw-dropping. These things rip through buildings and vehicles and people with ferocity and velocity that effectively illuminates how brutal Mother Nature can really be when it comes to her weather patterns. Planes take flight, but so do school buses and tractor trailers and who chunks of houses and SUVs and bricks and is that a tornado made out of fire and yes, it is. The humans of Into the Storm may not leave their mark, but the tornadoes sure do (again and again and again), ripping through everything with the kind of fury and insanity that only wind and wildness could possess.
If there’s going to be an Into the Storm 2, can it just star these tornadoes?
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