Into the Storm
Directed by Steven Quale. Starring Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Jeremy Sumpter, Matt Walsh, Nathan Kress, Arlen Escarpeta, Ron Causey. Written by John Swetnam.
As a “super tornado” rips through the rural town of Silverton in the climactic scenes of Into the Storm, hurtling characters and vehicles throughout the air, the Dolby Atmos sound system at Premiere Cinemas Praha Hostivař reverberated with the deafening sounds of gale force winds, punctuated every now and then with the frightening crash of an object slamming into a wall.
This is top-of-the-line sound design, and the onscreen effects aren’t too shabby, either: copious amounts of CGI are seamlessly integrated into the furious tornado scenes, which are mostly shot with handheld cameras, giving you a true you-are-there experience. Topping 1995’s Twister, this is the most intense tornado experience you’ll have in a cinema.
So why, then, didn’t I give a damn?
Here’s the thing: a film can batter us with the best special effects we’ve ever seen, but to really get involved in the on-screen action, we need to care about the characters. We can create overbearing chaos and terror in our minds, but people that we care about? That responsibility rests with the filmmakers.
And that’s where Into the Storm fails. Characters, plot, story, and especially dialogue – horrific. I’m shocked that this script – no better than a disaster-of-the-week TV movie on the SyFy channel – was not only given the green light, but a considerable budget that includes state-of-the-art post-production f/x.
John Swetnam’s script chucks characters at us with all the grace of its central storm: there’s a team of tornado hunters led by producer Pete (Matt Walsh) and meteorologist Allison (The Walking Dead’s Sarah Wayne Callies), a pair of amateur YouTube Jackasses (Kyle Davis and Jon Reep as ‘Donk’ and ‘Reevis’), and brothers Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress), whose father Gary (Richard Armitage, The Hobbit’s Thorin Oakenshield) is the principal of their high school.
That school, of course, is right in the middle of a tornado’s path. And then another tornado. And then the ‘super tornado’, which is a system of multiple tornados that converge on each other to create a tunnel that is miles wide and generates winds over 300 miles per hour. First our characters take shelter in the school, and then flee to a storm drain; the tornado hunters, luckily, have a tank that can anchor itself into the ground.
I love how Into the Storm chastises its characters – the videographers who are chasing the tornado – for caring about the images they are capturing more than the lives that are being lost. I’m not so sure the filmmakers are aware of the irony – that they are exploiting the disaster in the exact same way.
Donnie, unfortunately, has ventured to the old abandoned paper factory during tornado time to help the girl (Alycia Debnam Carey) he has a crush on with her documentary project. “They’re just leaving all these dangerous chemicals lying around,” she exclaims. But if you’re expecting the super tornado to whip up said chems for some acid bath destruction, well, you’ll be just as disappointed as I was.
There is, however, a ‘firenado’ when one of the twisters knocks over a gas pump and a power line, spinning up a burning stream of gasoline. No Sharkado, Metal Tornado, or Stonados, however – though Into the Storm, at its heart, is just as dopey as those Syfy efforts.
Too silly to be taken seriously, and too dark and destructive to really be any fun, Into the Storm exists somewhere in the grey area between Twister and Sharknado; it’s certainly goofier than any Roland Emmerich disaster movie – and that’s saying something.
During the tornado scenes in Into the Storm, I was reminded of one of those rinkydink Hurricane Shacks that simulates the experience of being in a (mild) hurricane: fans blowing in your face, light flashes simulating lightning, and the floorboards vibrating. Only difference: those things last about 60 seconds, instead of the 90 minutes of lame dialogue and annoying characters that you’re subjected to here.