From Steven Quale, the director of Final Destination 5 comes Into The Storm, a thriller that aims to capitalize on our fears of such unforgiveable forces of nature as Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy. (Both disasters actually earn a name-check herein.) You may have seen the trailers on television and thought with a shrug this is the poor man's Twister. Let me assure you, Into The Storm is much, much worse than that.
Penned by John Swetnam (who remarkably also wrote another Friday release, Step Up All In), Into The Storm follows a pack of storm trackers and a smattering of American town folk all caught in the unpredictable and violent embrace of tornadoes unlike the world has ever seen before. Among this rag tag crew of "heroes" are a pair of teen brothers who always carry video cameras, their stern vice principal/father (The Hobbit's Richard Armitage surely wondering what he's doing here), a pretty lady/scientist who tracks the storm (Sarah Wayne Callies), a trio of interchangeable cameramen, and their resident Captain Ahab (Matt Walsh), who will risk everything to get footage from the eye of the storm. Oh, there's also a pair of amateur jackasses (think the Johnny Knoxville variety), but they just squeal and goof around at the fringes of the story, never really factoring into its plot in a major way.
So, you have a family trying to run from the storm, and a band of professional risk-takers trying to chase it down. They inevitably team up to survive, which could have been a solid premise. For it to work, however, Swetnam and Quale would have had to take some time to carve out actual characters. Instead, they only manage to construct the faintest outlines of stereotypes, like the wise-ass teen, the obsessed captain, the rookie and the love-sick teen. The movie is far more interested with treating these people as props to be battered around with sprawling CGI storms.
To the film's credit, some of the disaster sequences are genuinely frightening with a palpable violence. But these are in brief moments, and not enough to compensate for everything else wrong with the movie. Overall, the visual effects aren't textured enough to seem in the same world as the actor, so the storms look better suited for made-for-TV spectacle than that on the big screen. Likewise, the performances of the cast seem better suited to overeager TV melodrama. Most of the performances are one-note, making it difficult to engage with these characters on anything more than a "man, it must suck to be stuck in a tornado" level.
Matt Walsh is a standout, committing to his jerk role, while managing to find humor notes and even a core of integrity there. Mustering up some of the steely resolve we've seen him pull off in The Hobbit trilogy thus far, Richard Armitage manages some moments of compelling valor. But sadly these are drowned in too much mess that makes up Into The Storm.
The film has open and obvious disdain for anyone unfortunate enough to watch it. From it's opening scene of amateur photography catching a deadly preview of this fateful weather event, Into The Storm would have you believe it's a found footage movie. This perspective allows every character to info-dump about their backstories straight to camera, but it's bare and tactless. For instance, a teen boy doing a time capsule project tells his future self, "This is dad. He's the vice principal at your school." Because he's likely to forget that? Into the Storm thinks so little of its audience's comprehension skills that a character explains--straight to camera--"The storm front is expanding. That means it's getting bigger."
As helpful as the found footage device seems to be to on helping dole out exposition in the least exciting way possible, it’s nonetheless dropped abruptly, sporadically, and without apparent cause. This means with each new frame it's up to the audience to figure out who is in the scene and who is shooting it - a character within the story? Or a cameraman whose grabbing coverage that in no way fits into the film's established found footage aesthetic? If this sounds like a fun game to you - instead of just sounding like incompetent filmmaking – I have good news! You can play through the entirety of Into The Storm, as this back and forth just doesn’t stop.
Another game viewers might enjoy is trying to keep track of all the characters. With each of them occasionally hiding out of frame behind an unknown number of cameras that happen to be floating about for every random character to use, you could assume that one of them was swept up and killed. But then they just resurface unceremoniously several scenes later.
In the end, this movie was so poorly made that it made me feel far more aggravated than entertained. I'm all for big dumb smash-em-up fun, but Into The Storm breaks so profoundly with the established structures of filmmaking that it defies your brain to follow its thread. Sure, its emotional stories are simple. Teen boys want dad's respect. Lady scientist wants jerk boss's respect. Jerk boss wants his white whale tornado caught on tape! But without defined characters, engaging performances, or storm effects that won't demolish our suspension of disbelief, all Into The Storm will leave you with is less cash and probably a headache.