INTO THE STORM Movie Review – Spectacle First, Second, and Last
To paraphrase the Bard (a/k/a William Shakespeare), Into the Storm, a Twister-clone directed by Steven “Final Destination 5” Quale from a script (“script” used here merely as a description) credited to John Swetnam (Step Up All In, Evidence), is full of sound and fury (and spectacle), ultimately signifying nothing. Stuffed with paper-thin, one-dimensional characters, painfully predictable plot points borrowed, if not outright stolen, from other, better disaster films, sub-functional dialogue, risible attempts at (faux) profundity, cheap, emotionally manipulative turns, and CG tornadoes of variable quality wreaking destruction on the generic, Middle American town in their path, Into the Storm should have been relegated to VOD or better yet, late-night cable (though even there, the SyFy Channel knows how to produce infinitely more engaging entertainments), not receive a full theatrical roll-out from coast to coast.
Jumping directly from Final Destination 5 to Into the Storm, Quale clumsily mixes handheld camerawork and editing – sometimes, but not always held by an onscreen character, found footage style – with more conventional, traditional camerawork and editing, the better, presumably, to draw moviegoers into the life-or-death struggles of the onscreen characters. Unfortunately, Swetnam forget or simply failed to create characters with any depth or shading, making any interest in their individual or collective fates purely surface level. Instead, Quale and Swetnam follow the “more is more” approach, throwing in close to a dozen characters, including storm chasers led by Pete (Matt Walsh), a veteran storm chaser and self-styled documentary filmmaker, and a family of three led by Gary (Richard Armitage, unrecognizable without the prosthetic proboscis sported in the soon-to-be concluded Hobbit trilogy), a high-school vice-principal and father to two teens, Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress). Inexplicably, Quale and Swetnam include two cringe-inducing, stereotypical rednecks, Donk (Kyle Davis) and Reevis (Jon Reep), for “comic relief” that make Beavis and Butthead look like Einstein-level geniuses.
Before Into the Storm turns into Twister-lite, Quale and Swetnam spend an inordinate amount on awkward attempts to fill in backstories for Gary and his sons (their mother first left, then died, created a guilt-ridden rift inside the family) while the monomaniacal Pete, running out of money, time, and patience, figuratively whips his crew into shape. Only Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies), the storm chasers’ resident meteorologist (complete with a backstory that includes single motherhood and periodic calls to her young daughter), has enough weight inside the group to sway Pete in any given direction (as long as it involves tornadoes and the opportunity to capture footage inside the eye of a tornado, that is). Before long, the two groups (and later, briefly, the two rednecks) cross paths after the first of several tornadoes hits the area. Unsurprisingly, the two groups merge, primarily to help Gary find his oldest son, Donnie (Max Deacon), AWOL on a trip to an abandoned paper mill to shoot footage for a documentary directed by his high-school crush, Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam Carey).
The characters, their relationships, and conflicts serve the primary function of giving Into the Storm the semblance of a narrative. It’s just connective tissue, weak connective tissue at that, between the inevitable set pieces that combine live-action with CG (often more of the latter than the former). Post-introduction, Quale speeds through the non-tornado scenes, a reflection of Into the Storm’s overabundant narrative problems. Then again, it’s obvious from the prologue that Quale’s interests lie with disasters of the natural, not human, kind (except as the former impacts the latter). Visually, the set pieces impress, but that has less to do with Quale’s inventive direction than the small army of creative animators at his command. Even there, though, the lack of human connection makes it difficult, if not impossible, to make the characters’ individual and collective fates mean anything at all. The semi-found footage gimmick, occasionally (and oddly) interrupted by a misplaced, mistimed score, hinders more than helps, but borrowing found footage-inspired camerawork and editing is a minor problem (if it’s a problem at all) in comparison to Into the Storm’s inability to connect the characters on one side of the screen with moviegoers on the other side.