When I first saw the teaser trailer for Into the Storm, my very first thought after it ended was, “Only on Syfy.” With people flying into “the suck zone” (and holding onto others right next to them who aren’t), planes getting tossed around the tarmac of an airport, and a tornado getting lit on fire, it just felt like it would fit right at home on the SyFy Channel. After the full trailer was released, I had to wonder how cheesy fun this might have been had it reserved itself to the smaller screen to join the likes of Sharknado and Piranhaconda as kitschy fun. Having now experienced the film, my sentiments couldn’t have been more accurate, as the film follows SyFy movie logic, but accidentally acquired a special effects budget with far too many zeroes.
The film is actually a little frustrating to watch because director Steven Quale doesn’t seem to understand the concept of a found footage movie, which this awkwardly wants to be. Quale jumps from the viewpoint of a half a dozen cameras mounted on a behemoth storm chasing tank and various cameras (both professional film cameras to a cheap camera phone) carried by half a dozen characters, to what amounts to omniscient video recorders floating about the sky that help to capture scenes and dialogue that could never have been filmed by a specific character (either that or Quale just decided to abandon the found footage concept because he couldn’t creatively figure out how to get the shots he needed).
I do feel I have to throw up a disclaimer here — I’ve never been all that impressed by the entire found footage idea. Sure, there have been good movies utilizing the concept (the most recent being Earth to Echo), but these types of movies feel way too manufactured because they rely so heavily on suspension of disbelief. The majority of the time you have to wonder why anyone is filming some innocuous conversation, or how they seem to get the perfect shot every time it’s needed. For me, it always feels that this type of movie would have been more exciting and emotional if it had been done in a traditional way (Chronicle, for example).
To their credit, Quale and screenwriter John Swetnam do try to give reason for crafting the film this way. In one plot line, Donnie (Max Deacon), a junior in high school, has been tasked by his father, Gary (Richard Armitage), to film both the graduation ceremony and a time capsule of interviews from students discussing where they hope to be in twenty-five years. It’s a conceit that tries to set-up a heavy-handed message about living in the now that never really materializes the way it should, not with the cliché dynamic of a father who’s a dick to both of his sons, who themselves hate him for not respecting them for who they are. When Gary calls out for a knife to save an old man from a car, and his first instinct when his younger son, Trey (Nathan Kress), hands him a buck knife is to scold him for having it, well, I’m sure you’ve already guessed what happens by the end.
The other half of the film tracks a documentary team chasing the storm in an attempt to capture what it’s like inside the eye of the tornado. The team leader, Pete (Matt Walsh), has such a hard on for this quest, that he’s blind to the emotional impact the task has on his crew, which includes Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies), a single mother and horrible meteorologist; Daryl (Arien Escarpeta), the token black guy; and Jacob (Jeremy Sumpter), a terrified fresh face to the team, brought in for reasons that aren’t clearly explained. Together, they chase tornadoes as well as the two pointless rednecks (Kyle Davis and Jon Reep) who float around the film adding absolutely nothing to the film but goofy comic relief.
Of the cast, Callies is the most believable for the the material she’s been given. No matter the situation, she gives a hundred and ten percent, hitting every dramatic note with the tenacity of a real pro. The rest of the cast delivers the stunted dialogue with the emotional capacity of lettuce, never digging any deeper than burying a goldfish in the backyard. When Gary finds out that Donnie has been trapped inside an abandoned warehouse, or manufacturing plant (or something), Armitage conveys about as much desire to find him as a dog looking to get neutered.
And that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to irrational characters. Throughout the majority of the movie, Jacob is scared to death of being this close to tornadoes, to the point that he’s ready to quit after nearly getting crushed by a truck. Ten minutes later, he’s suddenly brave enough to not only stand within feet of the aforementioned flaming tornado, but willing to chase down his camera because the footage is more important than his life. Aside from that, the only other character that changes from the beginning of the film to the end, are Gary and Pete, and even then, there isn’t enough to make these changes all that believable.
Not even the potential love stories add up to much more than blossoming weeds. I’ll forgive the script for failing to give Callies and Armitage a chance to make a romantic connection, even though it’s been set up to have that connection happen, but I can’t do the same for Donnie and his pursuit of Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam Carey). It’s set up at the very beginning that he’s crushing on her so much that he’s willing to ditch his duties at the graduation ceremony to help her finish a film project. Carey and Deacon try to give this relationship some sort of spark, but whether it’s the direction, the script (which drops the entire subplot when the tornadoes have dissipated), or the fact that the two of them have hardly any chemistry, the entire romance falls flat with no conceivable purpose.
Chalk it all up to SyFy movie logic, where the “storm shelter” of the high school is simply a special corner of the school, a batch of school buses can outrun what the movie calls the fiercest tornado ever on record, people can run through winds with ease even though those same winds are tossing around debris of all kinds (including fake cows and cars) and the rednecks can have their truck totaled miles away from their home only to have access to their ATV several minutes later.
But then, there are the effects, which are stunning, to say the least. In fact, the effects are so good, so realistic, I almost wanted the tornadoes to swallow up every character for the stupidity of their actions. They raise the action sequences to a whole other level, somehow elevating the film from an utter disaster to a watchable disaster (in your train wreck sort of way), and give the film a reason for existing beyond the dollar DVD bin. It’s utterly ridiculous in a fun, B-Movie way that turns out to be incredibly enjoyable. You want to turn away, but you just can’t help but let the film sweep you Into the Storm.
My Grade: B+
Next week, new movies include The Expendables 3, The Giver and Let’s Be Cops. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.