When you go to a film like "Into the Storm", you probably have some idea of what you are in for. The movie is marketed to highlight the special effects. That is your first clue that this is not a film that will be filled with Oscar caliber acting. It is a film sold on concept and because the filmmakers wanted show off the special effects they could conjure.
You, dear thornie (I feel I can call you that, devoted reader) might ask "thornhill, didn't we already see this film when it was called "Twister"?"
Yes. Yes, you did, dear thornie. In this day and age of almost constant remakes and reboots, I'm honestly surprised they didn't just call it "Twister", but I guess we can be grateful for the small things once in a while.
I have a special fondness for disaster films. When I used to work at a video store, I plowed through all of the Irwin Allen films that were available. Recently, I tried Warner Instant Archive, an online Warner Bros. archive containing many obscure films and television shows. The streaming service contains a couple of Irwin Allen television movies. The best thing about the entire canon of Allen's films? The numerous stars he lured to participate in these films. I was forever changed by watching a lava flow threaten Jaqueline Bisset in “When Time Ran Out”. He also subjected Fred Astaire to “The Towering Inferno”. All of his films are cookie cutter; a greedy person has done something that will threaten the ranks of B and C-list stars hired to fill out the ranks of the people who will soon die – they have built a cruise ship that is too big, a skyscraper that is too tall, a resort on an active volcanic island. Nothing is ready,but he wants to go ahead with the grand opening. Mr. Greedy always has a former second-in-command who quit because he knew trouble was coming. And that second-in-command is always in love with Mr. Greedy’s daughter. The fact they are so cookie cutter is part of their campy charm.
When a new disaster film is released, you can pretty much count on finding me in the theater on opening weekend. And "Into the Storm" was no exception.
Directed by Steven Quale ("Final Destination 5") and written by John Sweetman, "Storm" hits Silverton, a small town in Oklahoma. Gary (Richard Armitage, "The Hobbit", BBC's "Robin Hood"), a recent widower and the Vice Principal of Silverton High School, has a lot on his plate getting everything ready for graduation. His two sons, Donnie (Max Deacon), a junior, and Trey (Nathan Kress), a sophomore, have been enlisted to video the ceremony and put together a tape of highlights. The relationship between father and sons is, shall we say, strained. Gary is also anxious because it doesn't look like the weather will hold out for the ceremony.
Meanwhile, a troop of storm chasers is getting desperate. They keep missing storms and their backer is threatening to pull out. This is making Pete (Matt Walsh), the director of the potential documentary, anxious and he is looking for his meteorologist Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies, TV's "The Walking Dead") to work her magic and get them into the middle of a storm, so his multiple cameras and cameramen (stock characters all) will capture some amazing footage. Allison soon spots the storm headed for Silverton.
Movies like "Into the Storm" are nothing if not predictable. You know that going in, so the reason to go to a film like this is because of the effects. “Storm” is like "Twister" on speed. A lot of this is credited to the natural evolution of special effects, which can be more elaborate than they were ten years ago. Forget about cows flying through the air, "Storm" brews up just about every imaginable vehicle and throws them up, making them weapons. If you have seen the trailer, you know that the twisters eventually attack an airport and jets begin to twist and float into the air. There is a natural progression in a suspense film, and disaster films like this are really an extension of the suspense genre. They aren't going to start with the planes, they are going to start smaller and increase the danger, and suspense, to keep the viewer engaged.
It is also necessary to give the disaster elements a 'life', to make them a character. In "Jurassic Park", some of the dinosaurs are nice, others are very mean. You don't meet the mean creatures in the beginning and the nice beasts at the end. "Into the Storm", just like "Twister" before it, needs to make the tornadoes into characters. Because of the way Sarah Wayne Callies refers to them, they almost take on a more human feeling – “It’s moving”, “It should hit…”, “It’s gaining strength.” And like any good villain, they are going to save the best stuff for last. Quale teases us with a storm that hits at night and builds the size and severity of the storm as the story continues. Soon, the twister breaks into four, one of them centers over a gas fire, sucking the flames up the entire length of the twister, etc.
In a film like this, you can also pretty much guess who will and who won't be killed and in what order. You can also guess what sort of danger some of the characters will experience and who will be challenged to rescue them.
Like I said, you don't go to a film like this for anything but the special effects. And the special effects are good. There are a couple of moments when you feel like you are in the middle of the action. A few times, the special effects actually draw you out of the suspense, the fire up the tornado's length is a good example, because if a tornado is going to suck up some fire, it is also going to suck up one of the stock characters. When the guy comes into contact with the flames, it just isn't believable enough, which is surprising because you would expect all of the effects to be beyond critique.
The acting is also passable. Richard Armitage, a veteran of a lot of British television and "The Hobbit" films, is looking to become a leading man. "Storm" is an adequate showcase for his talents. Gary is a widower raising two teenage boys who are in the rebellious phase of their youth. He is naturally pretty glum and upset most of the time. I usually want to see a character arc in any film, but if Gary became more happy as the tornadoes begin to rip apart Silverton, it wouldn't seem natural. Sarah Wayne Callies has a little more material to work with. She has left her little daughter at home, so we witness a tearful conversation with the young girl. Her boss is also giving her a hard time and threatens to fire her. Both of these moments give her personal obstacles. The rest of the cast is made up of high-school kids, all pretty common stereotypes, and people on the storm chaser crew, all pretty common stereotypes.
The film also tries to make the actual framework of the story a little more interesting by making it a documentary. Because Gary's two sons are around, he has assigned them to make a video time capsule, interviewing their friends and getting their thoughts. They are also charged with taping the high school graduation and putting clips online. The storm chasers also have a plethora of cameras. A crew of "Jackass" wannabes are also trying to capture video of their high jinks and the tornado. The film uses all of this footage, interjecting a talking head here and there. I supposed this was done to capitalize on the now-passing success of the 'found footage' horror genre ("Paranormal Activity 1 - 100"). In "Storm", it is presented in a more polished way. It still takes some adjusting, but it does seem to fit the overall feel of the film.
Will "Into the Storm" make any '10 Best' lists? No. But it is fun in a corny, predictable way.