A film review by Craig J. Koban August 22, 2014 


2014, PG-13, 89 mins.


Richard Armitage as Gary Morris  /  Sarah Wayne Callies as Allison  /  Matt Walsh as Pete  /  Max Deacon as Donnie  /  Nathan Kress as Trey  /  Alycia Debnam Carey as Kaitlyn  /  Jeremy Sumpter as Jacob  /  Kyle Davis as Donk

Directed by Steven Quale  /  Written by John Swetnam

INTO THE STORM is barely a movie.  It’s a series of gimmicks and a glossy visual effects demo reel masquerading as a movie.  I guess that I would aptly describe it as a “found footage disaster film,” yet the film has an extremely shaky foundation in terms of having a valid and unifying reason to even utilize found footage as part of a unifying premise.   

The biggest sin, though, committed by Steven Quale’s (FINAL DESTINATION 5) twister thriller is that (a) it fundamentally doesn’t do anything really fresh or novel to successfully segregate itself from Jan de Bont’s famous 1996 thriller TWISTER (comparisons prove inevitable and obvious) and (b) there are simply no characters to even remotely latch on to and care about in the film.  The actors here are not so much playing relatable flesh and blood human beings as they are lame and half-hearted stock character types that are simply at the mercy of the disaster porn footage.  Yes, INTO THE STORM is a tour de force exhibition of some incredibly strong and well-engineered CG effects.  Towns, buildings, vehicles, and even human beings are sucked into the vortex of the film’s awesomely rendered tornadoes.  This is a tornado-lover’s wet dream film.  Alas, when a movie like this is so replete with flimsy human drama that barely seems usable for a soap opera script then all you are left with is an ultimately pathetic hollow shell of a film; its manufactured carnage without any dramatic consequences.   

The plot – if you can call it that – is of the paint-by-numbers variety in terms of its one-note simplicity.  It’s essentially a close line for the film’s faux-reality footage, which is captured by a blend of TV news coverage, helicopter shots, surveillance camera footage, cell phones, and, in particular, the cameras mounted on a storm chaser’s tank-like, tornado hunting truck.  The action takes place in a rural Oklahoma town and countryside where the proverbial “Big One” touches down and lays nearly everything to waste.  Of course, it strikes with very little warning, which leaves citizens vulnerable and exposed to the storm’s fury.  Before it hits we are introduced to a series of disinteresting personas: There are a pair of brothers Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress), the former being a tech-geek that shoots many prominent functions for his high school, including the upcoming graduation, which is being spearheaded by his father – and school VP – Gary (Richard Armitage, an actor so…very…very...serious…that he forgot what kind of film he’s in here).   



Donnie made a vow to his overprotective and domineering father to shoot the graduation, but he breaks his promise when the crush of his life Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam Carey) has troubles with her own video project, which forces Donnie into action to help her.  Predictably, this takes him away from his promised duties to help his dad shoot the high school graduation.  Concurrent to this story thread is a subplot involving a squad of storm chasers led by Pete (Matt Walsh), someone who's desperate to capture something astounding.  His truck would make Batman envy, as it’s decked out in protective amour and has high tech cameras mounted all over it to catch a storm in action.  His assistant, Allison (THE WALKING DEAD’s Sarah Wayne Callies), is a meteorologist that has a tough time focusing on work because of her long-term separation from her daughter.  When the storm – make that multiple storms – do indeed strike, everyone is ill prepared for its startling lethality and the destruction it causes.  Unfortunately, Gary goes into crisis mode to locate Donnie, who has become separated and trapped with Kaitlyn from the rest of the town. 

INTO THE STORM looks good.  Damn good.  There’s absolutely no denying the fact that it’s a work of sometimes-breathtaking visual dynamism and offers up the promised levels of large-scale tornadoes wreaking frightening havoc.  When the film settles in on showcasing these unstoppable forces of nature it’s genuinely engaging (a truly terrifying sequence of the storm ripping through an airport and tossing massive jetliners into the air like toy cars is especially effective).  The integration of live action and computer rendered fakery here is, for the most part, thanklessly seamless.     

Beyond the shiny veneer of the film’s amazing effects…INTO THE STORM is a categorical failure on a storytelling and character front.  John Swetnam’s screenplay seems bound and determined to populate the film with as many pedestrian plotting clichés, laughably ham-infested and expository heavy dialogue, and skimpily developed characters that there’s simply no real tangible emotional epicenter here to latch onto.  I simply didn’t care about these people.  They have no distinct personality traits or story arcs beyond the meager ones that the script affords them.  The performances themselves range from serviceable to mediocre by a cast that’s comprised of established and unknown performers (granted, when given cookie-cutter dialogue like “RUN!” or “WE MUST GET INSIDE!” or “IT’S TOO DANGEROUS HERE, WE MUST LEAVE!” the actors are not given much to work with here).  I don’t go into films like INTO THE STORM expecting high drama; but I at least expect the film to have characters that I don’t feel empty about – one way or another – if they die or not.  When one character does perish in the story I had to remind myself why I was supposed to feel for him. 

Here’s another problem: Why on earth is this presented as a found footage film?  These types of films only work when they present a valid reason for the found footage to exist in the first place, which INTO THE STORM kind of fails at.  The film is awkwardly assembled in terms of the varying footage, comprised of the storm chaser’s doc footage for his upcoming movie (which makes sense) and a group of hillbilly YouTubers yearning for hits and fame (also makes sense), but it never makes a hill of beans worth of sense why the high school kids – while out in the wild and fearing for their very lives – would ever feel compelled to shoot images on their cell phones when they should be running like hell to ensure that they don't die.  I also found it remarkable – and unintentionally hysterical - how the cell phone videos has pitch perfect audio during footage taken involving 300 M.P.H. twister winds (conveniently allowing dialogue to be heard).  INTO THE STORM really fumbles the ball when it comes to explaining its found footage aesthetic, which really leaves you asking more silly questions than you should. 

If you want a feature length highlight reel of wanton environmental disaster and devastation, then INTO THE STORM is for you.  Thankfully, the film is mercifully brief at less than 90 minutes.  For those with more discerning tastes, the film emerges as embarrassingly clumsy at establishing and developing its characters, story, and basic premise.  When the funnel clouds start morphing in the skies and the multiple twisters hit the ground and obliterate everything in front of them, then, yes, INTO THE STORY is superficially enthralling eye candy.  Beyond that, the human element here takes a decided backseat to Mother Nature’s wrath, which consequently has the unintended side effect of making INTO THE STORM – a film meant to thrill and excite – a tedious bore to endure. 

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