As a child I absolutely loved the 70’s disaster films THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, THE TOWERING INFERNO and EARTHQUAKE. They were exciting, they felt all too real and they had big name stars. In fact I think my life-long love affair with Gene Hackman was all because of that stupid upside-down cruise ship. I don’t look to my disaster films to teach me lessons about life or love per se. I look to them to give me a thrill ride without monsters. Or Vin Diesel. Lately, with the incremental advances in CGI, I find all too often that the entire movie is dependent upon the CGI and the story is ridiculous, the acing insipid and the experience detached from the human experience any lacking in any kind of opportunity for the viewer to identify with its characters (see my thoughts on TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION). INTO THE STORM is no different in that the film really is all about the CGI created events which transpire, and the dialogue is sadly vapid and trite. However, the effects are so incredibly terrifying, the storms so real and the threat so palpable that I admit to enjoying it for what it is: a scary as hell movie about tornadoes.
The plot is simple, but frankly somewhat beside the point really; we have a single summer day in the lives of our characters who live in a flat tornado magnet swath of the USA. A team making a documentary about mega tornadoes have been chasing storm cells for weeks to no avail. Their money is running out and there is acrimony between the members of the team. Their leader Pete, played by Matt Walsh, is obsessed beyond any rational logic with finding the big one and making his mark on tornado chasing history. He is smug, overconfident and abrasive: an unequivocal asshole. The whole movie. Without pause. Concurrently we have a widower father, (Richard Armitage of THE HOBBIT films) with two teenage sons, who also happens to be the principal of the area high school whose graduation is that day. There is tension between he and his sons about who is the true alpha dog in the family as his son’s strive for individuality and independence. We have a pretty damsel in academic distress, two local dumb-ass daredevils and assorted other characters so stereotypical and one dimensional they are like cartoon characters. At times the dialogue is so transparent, so thick with innuendo and foreshadowing I had a hard time believing a human wrote it and that is was not a middle school class project to program a computer to write a screenplay. The movie tidily presents us with all the chess pieces in play right up front in a snazzy documentary fashion with each character’s name and role. The movie gives us blatant clues as to who may, or may not, make it. When Pete says of his tank-like tornado-mobile’s spiky anchoring system, “We’re not going anywhere with those suckers dug in,” you know damn well that thing is going to fly away like a discarded newspaper. It’s all par for the course.
It is when the storm starts in earnest that the movie gets fun and, at a neat compact 89 minutes long, the first hailstone is a great benefit to the audience because by that point you are sick to death of the cast slogging through their dialogue. If you have never been in a hail storm, it is a fast moving freak of mother nature. It feels biblical. And that’s just the appetizer. The movie makes a few muted references to global warming and the resulting super storms which have been occurring with greater frequency in parts of the world but it is not a major subtext. There must have been some clause in the contract to mention global warming or there’s no distribution deal.
I have previously voiced my opinion that CGI is most effective and moving when amplifying what is already in existence. It’s fun to see our fantasies and daydreams come to life on screen, but to reach us on a human level we must use a human language, and man versus mother nature – who is REALLY angry lately – is one of the most enduring human languages around. Director Steven Quale was a second unit director/AD for AVATAR & TITANIC and is well versed in adventure disasters and computer driven imagery. He builds the fear and momentum well with appropriate lulls and surprises and I found myself anxious, thrilled and scared. All the boxes checked. The camera work is worth mentioning as well with shaky, grainy video footage mixed into the film giving it a very BLAIR WITCH vibe. When you see mass chaos and fear through the lens of the high school’s video surveillance system it looks real. The mixture of film and video is deftly handled and adds to the realism of the movie. The scenes of the aftermath, the complete devastation of buildings and towns, communities ground up like sand, swaths of land scarred and decimated in minutes, cars tossed around like Matchbox toys in a toddler’s hand, it is staggering and gut-wrenching because we know that this is what happens in reality. I do not feel that the filmmakers took extreme liberties, rather I feel they gave an accurate representation of the devastation which follows these events and that is to the film’s credit. Most of the cast has numerous television credits rather than film. Notable is Nathan Kress (a fixture of the funny ‘tween TV show iCarly) who plays Trey, one of the principal’s sons who ends up being a likable and heroic kid. Of the entire cast he seems the most genuine and the most comfortable in his role. INTO THE STORM is not high art, it is in essence two films – the interpersonal stories and the devastation. Despite the interpersonal threads being weak and frayed, it’s action is realistic, gripping and efficient – just what you want from a summer movie blast.
Director: Steven Quale
Cast: Richard Armitage, Matt Walsh, Sarah Wayne Callies, Max Deacon, Nathan Kress, Alycia Debnam Carey
Running Time: 89 minutes
Movie Review Into The Storm