Into the Storm (2014)

There is no calm before the storm

On this miserable, wet, first day of Spring — in Melbourne, Australia — it’s only fitting I get tickets to a special preview screening of Into the Storm, a loose, found-footage, re-imaging of the 1996 Jan de Bont hit, Twister, or a SyFy channel disaster movie with a bigger budget. However, when compared to Twister, this straight-faced disaster epic feels somewhat uninspiring. Where Twister had fun with the assaulting force of Mother Nature — which included cheeky homage to films such as The Wizard of Oz (1939), as most would certainly recall the surreal sight of an airborne cow zooming past the camera mid-moo — Into the Storm throws all logic out the window to make way for its rather impressive effects, whilst filling the gaps with an assault of stiff acting and cliché characters.

Set in the fictional town of Silverton, Oklahoma, the local high school senior class are preparing for their big graduation. On this same day, the school’s vice-principal, Gary Fuller, (Richard Armitage), who has grown distant from his two high school sons, Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress), after a family tragedy, asks them to record messages from the seniors for a time capsule to be opened in 25 years. Meanwhile, obsessed, down-on-his-luck documentarian Pete (Matt Walsh) — who has been attempting to intercept and film tornadoes using a heavily armored vehicle nicknamed Titus — will stop at nothing to capture the greatest tornado footage ever recorded, dragging his team of storm chasers — including Allison Stone, (Sarah Wayne Callies) his Meteorologist, who longs to unite with her five-year-old daughter after being apart for months — into immediate danger. Finally, Donk (Kyle Davis) and Reevis (Jon Reep) — a pair of drunken Jackass (2000) wannabe daredevils — are striving to become famous on YouTube, eager to develop their next wild stunt. But, when a series of powerful tornados touch down in Silverton, the town is ravaged by an unprecedented onslaught of nasty weather. However, things intensify when the storm trackers predict that the worst is yet to come.

We'll ride in the gathering storm, until we get our long-forgotten gold.
We’ll ride in the gathering storm, until we get our long-forgotten gold.

At first, director Steven Quale, Final Destination 5 (2011), uses the first-person point-of-view gimmick to open the film, lending itself to the immediacy of an intense online storm video, including interviews which are apparently meant to comment on the fragility of life come the picture’s conclusion, though, once things get manic, this technique is mostly dropped, making way for some decent effects, while John Swetnam’s, Step Up All In (2014), flat screenplay isn’t strong enough to sustain much lasting impact with the earlier subjects. What’s more, anyone who’s ever dropped and broken their phone would be thoroughly impressed by the apparent durability of these hand held devices, which hold up rather nicely amongst the picture’s frantic destruction; monstrous tornados, fire tornados, I’m surprised we didn’t see any Sharknados!

Although Quale and Swetnam give us a predictable, bare-bones, plot and hollow key players, the real stars of Into the Storm are the tornados and the picture’s nifty effects — Quale is no stranger to remarkable visuals, working as visual effects supervisor for James Cameron’s Avatar (2009). It’s plainly evident that the film’s storm-chasing moments are admittedly thrilling — these ferocious hurricanes memorably rip through schools, banks and buildings — yet certain elements of the film are too over-the-top or utterly implausible to keep patrons fully immersed during the crazed action — apparently these 300-mile-per-hour cyclones can lift jumbo jets off the ground, but can’t pick up humans who are hiding in a near by drain pipe? Narrative wise, things just don’t add up, windshield wipers on the unbreakable storm chaser function normally although our character’s drive through raging high-speed winds and the sleepy unknown town of Silverton is suddenly situated near a major international airport, conveniently bringing about the picture’s most remarkable set piece.

Replacing Jan de Bont’s Twister cast of Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton and Philip Seymour Hoffman are a group of predominantly cringe-worthy players, who deliver clunky dialogue and rigid performances, with Richard Armitage — famous for playing Thorin in The Hobbit series — brining about the ensemble’s flattest, most unconvincing act. Max Deacon, I, Anna (2012), is almost as dire as Donnie Fuller, but luckily spends the majority of the picture trapped inside an abandoned paper mill with his high school crush, Kaitlyn Johnson, played by Alycia Debnam Carey, Dream Life (2008) — who is basically reduced to a trophy prize for Donnie, fulfilling the film’s predictable teen romance. Scott Lawrence, Avatar (2006), shares an uncanny resemblance to Barack Obama and does little else, whilst Jeremy Sumpter, Peter Pan (2003), plays a reluctant, cardboard cut-out camera operator, Jacob Hodges, who gets blown away by some high winds.

Brace yourself, winter is coming!
Brace yourself, winter is coming!

Matt Walsh’s, Ted (2012), Pete Moore is given the most depth as the career fixated filmmaker aching for some great whirlwind footage, and apart from a couple of questionable decisions toward the film’s conclusion, remains somewhat consistent and believable throughout the chaos. Similarly, Sarah Wayne Callies, from television’s The Walking Dead (2010), embraces the campy nature of the picture with her role as Pete’s tornado specialist Allison. As a whole though, no one truly impresses, but the cast range from varying degrees of campy to incredibly stereotypical and bland, further hindered by the screenplay’s lack of personality.

James Cameron protégé Steven Quale — who worked as second unit director on both, Cameron’s Avatar (2006) and Titanic (1997) — does a tolerable job with the film’s overall ‘buzz’ factor, and the flick’s tight 90 minute running time helps keep proceedings swift, it’s just a shame Swetnam’s ordinary, almost humorless script, couldn’t sustain the momentum of the picture’s raging storms. In the end, Into the Storm is saved by its effects-heavy final act, ditching logic and its found-footage troupe in order to submerge patrons into the worst day imaginable.

2.5 / 5 – Alright

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Into the Storm is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia