Into The Storm Review

Into the Storm is a found footage twist on our Twister fears. But despite looking intimidating, this movie still could use more sharks.

Despite its growing ubiquity in Hollywood movies, found footage is slowly revealing itself to be a subtle art. Oh sure, any dingbat with a smartphone can “create” such an adventure, which is certainly the underlining message for most of the cast of dummies in this weekend’s Into the Storm. But whether they be the Storm’s determined-to-stay-grounded heroes or the more welcoming starry-eyed kids of Earth to Echo, they’re supposed to control the narrative at all times by pointing and shooting the purveying carnage like it’s a junky 1990s PC game. Yet, more often than not, the camera will cheat and leave the “found footage” angle for the birds so that director Steven Quale can get a bird’s eye view of the CGI spectacle at hand. When even the filmmakers don’t care enough about this gimmick to maintain the illusion, what chance do the rest of us have?

 Into the Storm is a found footage(ish) take on the disaster movies that used to populate multiplexes before the capes and cowls. And in its attempts to put a 21st century twist on Twister, Storm builds its own varied group of cattle masquerading as back stories that are just waiting to be whisked into the wide blue yonder.

The central conceit is that it is graduation day in Small Town, USA (on the border of the dreaded Tornado Alley). In this backdrop, two sons and a father have yet to confront their grief over a mother who died two years prior. Thus they shoot the pain away one HD video camera card at a time.

As luck would have it, stars and primary in-story cinematographers Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress) are also the son of a teacher and principal-in-waiting, Gary (Richard Armitage). So, when he tells his boys to record everything, they must record everything.

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Meanwhile there is also a group of tornado-hungry storm chasers in the guise of a whip-smart but desperate scientist, Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies), an ambitious and vainglorious head honcho named Pete (Matt Walsh), and the other guys who are there to hold the camera and get too close to the storms (Arlen Escarpeta, Jeremy Sumpter, and Lee Whittaker). There’s also a couple of “amateur daredevils” who want to nab their own Jackass series by chasing the multiple funnels on a dirt bike (Kyle Davis and Jon Reep). I’ll let you speculate on their chances for survival.

All of these characters converge on the sleepy town around the same time that a kick-off cyclone makes a B-line straight for the high school’s outdoor podium. But when Gary discovers that Donnie skipped the ceremony to help beautiful girl next door Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam Carey) film a college admission video, it also becomes a quest to find his son before one of the many, many tornados do—which culminates in the biggest twister ever recorded with its 300 MPH winds and a desire to flatten every last fleeing school bus in sight.

 For the most part, Into the Storm checks off enough boxes that those who come for the tornados will probably leave mildly satisfied. Despite some unfinished special effects in the marketing, the final tornados look good enough and if you go to a theater with a strong sound system, the last few that politely wait until the third act to make their big entrance are positively frightening.

Unfortunately, the victims they’re looking to squash prove to be about as thin as school walls are against an F5. None of the performances are off-point with Callies seemingly thankful to be playing a character with a shred of common sense and likability after three tours of duty in the hands of Walking Dead writers, and Walsh is having a ball portraying the jerk with a heart of gold. He may not get to chomp any cigars in his scenes, but the scenery itself is thoroughly chewed for maximum effect. The central teens are all serviceable: Carey is pretty, Kress is funny, and Deacon is affably noble. Alas, the only clever set-up between them is how the filmmakers actually used the found footage angle to amusing effect in the early sibling rivalry scenes between Trey and Donnie. But since those only last for a few minutes, the rest of the time, these kids mostly scream from behind the camera while regretting harsh words said to Papa Administrator.

Their archetypal nature more or less sums up the movie’s true beating heart. Despite the relatively obtainable aspirations of Jan De Bont, this picture lands somewhere closer to early Wes Craven. These tornados are only rarely terrifying acts of nature and fingers of God. For most of the picture, they’re a band of hooligans that strategically spread out around the road to maximize their chances of slaying teenagers. When a thriller begins like a slasher cold open with a tornado grabbing a group of kids in a car, we might as well have heard “One, two, Freddy’s coming for you.”

John Swetnam’s screenplay attempts to pay some lip service to the idea that climate change/global warming is responsible for these massive tornados while name-dropping Katrina and Sandy, but when even the film’s scientists are afraid to say the double-c words, instead positing that “we need to figure out what is causing these,” any social awareness comes off as feckless.

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But for what some people will pay for, the movie delivers plenty of whirlwinds. There are tornados, tornados on fire, and a pretty nifty first-person POV shot of flying through a tornado in the third act. Indeed, the final set-piece involving a sewer drain and the mini-tank blocking it from an F5 is sure to leave some audiences dizzy.

In the end, this is a professionally executed and competently choreographed disaster of maximal destruction. Yet, for all the entertainment (or lack thereof) this spin-cycle provides, it might have been better served with a few more cartoon sharks thrown into its ‘nado.

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2 out of 5