Written by: John Swetnam
Directed by: Steven Quayle
Starring: Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, and Matt Walsh
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
There is no calm before the storm.
There’s something comforting about the idea of Into the Storm that starts right up top with the New Line Cinema logo; while the House that Freddy (and Bob Shaye) built technically shuttered its doors over five years ago and has only lived on as an in-house label for Warner Brothers, its latest offering sometimes feels like one of the old-school programmers from the studio’s heyday, when it was churning out some of Hollywood’s greatest—or at least most entertaining—genre movies. Into the Storm might not be able to whirl with the absolute best of that era, but it’s a fine reminder that at least someone is at least trying to make earnestly dumb, B-movie schlock with incredible effects that swallow the proceedings. The only thing more impressive than the wanton destruction here is how oblivious the film is of its own brainlessness.
Ostensibly a found footage riff on Twister (though plenty of objective camerawork and non-diegetic music often break the illusion), the film follows the exploits of various individuals in a small Texas town that’s rocked by a swarm of freak tornadoes, all of whom are conveniently armed with cameras, whether they’re high school kids or a team of professional storm-chasers (naturally, there’s also an amateur redneck duo who have branded themselves Twista Hunterz). During the course of the day, they all cross paths and band together in order to weather the most badass storm in recorded human history.
Despite the large cast of characters, there’s little denying that the real star here is Mother Nature’s digital fury. I know, I know—we’re supposed to be dismayed at mindless blockbusters that champion effects over humanity, but I think we can make an exception when goddamned fire tornadoes are involved. The devastation on display here is top-notch spectacle; if most of the appeal of a dumb tornado thriller derives from seeing stuff flung around watching buildings get flattened, then Into the Storm is a rousing success.
This isn’t just disaster porn—it’s almost a hardcore disaster snuff film, full of whirling debris and assorted flying objects (there’s a sequence where a fleet of airliners is whisked through the air that leaves you wondering why this otherwise small town has an airport). Most importantly, it all looks spectacular; it might be wildly over-the-top (the “science” on display is dubious enough that Neil DeGrasse Tyson is probably preparing a thesis-length rebuttal as we speak), but the destruction is wholly believable, even when multiple tornados converge to form a giant cyclone capable of chewing up dozens of miles a second. Between its small scope and the found footage approach, Into the Storm makes for one of the more authentic disaster movies in recent memory.
Less believable is just about everything else going on in the film, especially the mostly forgettable cast of characters. All of the teenage characters are vacuous clichés, including a guy and a girl (he’s always had a crush on her, she needs him to help film a project) that find themselves at the center of the peril (they’re responsible for the obligatory, weepy found footage confession sequence that’s always filmed when characters find themselves on the edge of death). The guy’s dad is the high school’s assistant principal, played with a grumpy blandness by Richard Armitage, who winds up in the company of the storm chasers in an effort to rescue his son. Most of these chasers are similarly forgettable, save for a meteorologist (Sarah Wayne Callies) and the group’s leader (Matt Walsh), with the latter serving in the role of the obsessed, money-grubbing idiot looking to capture footage at all costs.
He doubles as the ruthless director of the group’s documentary (which explains why he has a handful of cameramen in tow, including one that pops up on camera maybe two times and otherwise disappears), and between that and his wardrobe, I’m almost convinced he’s supposed to be taking the piss out of the notoriously bullish James Cameron or something. As his behavior becomes more stubborn and outrageous, you’re sure he’s being set up for the most glorious death possible, and a better film might indulge that. With Final Destination 5 director Steven Quale at the helm, you wish Into the Storm were a more of a black-hearted, gory romp—these characters are wholly disposable, so you wish he actually disposed of them (only a handful bite the dust, and each is glorious, with one particular sequence being an instant classic).
Instead, he goes in the opposite direction by committing to a gleefully dopey tone with occasional bursts of actual seriousness. Credit is due to the actors, including the terrible ones: they never break stride, no matter how tempting it must have been to treat Into the Storm as a total joke. A couple of moments must have been incredibly inviting: one involves a great, extremely vertiginous climactic moment for Walsh’s character that’s completely ridiculous, and the other occurs in the aftermath of the storm, where the survivors recount their experiences for the cameras, only it feels like the sort of testimonials one might expect to find in an anti-depressant commercial. Somehow, these awful, cloying scenes are sandwiched by a somber walk through the storm’s devastation and a credits gag involving the aforementioned rednecks.
You never quite get the impression that Quale’s completely in control of these wild tonal shifts, yet it somehow helps the film’s case: you almost have to admire a film that’s so dumb that it doesn’t bother to wink at itself. Into the Storm is exactly the right kind of stupid B-movie that delivers what it promises (say what you want about its human aspects, but the title isn't Into the Character Development) and tries really hard while doing so. Audiences are left with a movie that occasionally brushes with the type of “greatness” that transcends the typical boundaries of quality. There’s really only one way to make this type of riotously bad movie, and that’s by shooting for the stars but spectacularly crashing down to earth. All the manufactured Sharknados in the world pale in comparison to a lovingly crafted flamenado, even if it does fizzle out. If nothing else, Into the Storm provides evidence that Quale might be the heir apparent to David R. Ellis’s B-movie mantle at New Line, should he choose to accept it. There are worse gigs. Rent it!
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