Boredom’s Brewing In This Disaster Film
DIRECTOR: STEVEN QUALE/2014
Audiences don’t ask a lot of disaster movies. While there have been some thoughtful, critically acclaimed films in the genre (think Titanic, Deep Impact, The Impossible), moviegoers seem to be just as happy with cheese-fests like Twister or Independence Day – or even winkingly awful Syfy movies like this summer’s Sharknado 2. I’m an unashamed fan of lightweight disaster movies, and I suppose I want the things most of us want from these films: colorful if unrealistic characters, some dramatic deaths, and lots of impressive destruction. The formula seems simple enough, but Into the Storm reminds us that not every director is up to meeting those expectations.
Into the Storm is a super-tornado flick, like the aforementioned Twister. Both movies revolve around storm chasers, although Into the Storm gives imperiled locals central roles as well. This time the little town of Silverton is the unfortunate tornado magnet, getting decked by one twister after another until it ends with the mother of of all funnel clouds – the kind that lifts one storm chaser and his vehicle high into the clouds for a rapturous moment in the heavens. It is, of course, the last rapturous moment he’ll get.
The effects in Into the Storm are not the problem. Director Steven Quale (Final Destination 5) pulls out all the stops, but anyone who has seen the movie’s trailer has already seen the best bits. A cyclone of fire? A runway full of planes swept up into the sky? The destruction is appropriately totalizing, but Into the Storm proves that even disaster movies needs something more.The film features no major stars, but is instead populated by the vaguely familiar. Matt Walsh (Veep) and Sarah Wayne Callies (The Walking Dead) are storm chasers. Richard Armitage (The Hobbit) is a single dad heroically trying to save his sons, played by Max Deacon and Nathan Kress. John Reep and Kyle Davis are morons of the “Jackass” school, trying to get the perfect shot of the storm that will make them viral video stars. Starting on the morning of high school graduation day, Armitage (the school’s vice principal) and his sons are inexorably drawn to disaster even as the storm chasers eagerly hope they’ve banked on the right town to get the tornado footage their documentary requires. Could this have been an interesting plot? Maybe, but things go wrong so early in the movie, with a tired “found footage” perspective and cliché characters, that not only Silverton but the entire film feels doomed.
A cyclone of fire? A runway full of planes swept up into the sky? The destruction is appropriately totalizing, but “Into the Storm” proves that even disaster movies needs something more.
The fate of the characters is predictable enough that I knew within the first 15 minutes who would survive and who would perish. Death is an important piece of disaster movies, and honestly, often a large part of the pleasure of watching them. Whether we feel some genuine sadness (as in a movie like Deep Impact) or the twisted glee that Syfy specializes in – dispatching C actors in clouds of blood – we usually feel something. Watching the deaths in Into the Storm, I couldn’t come up with more than, “Well, that happened.”
None of the characters are interesting: not a one. The screenwriting in Into the Storm, by John Swetnam, is amateurish, and the acting sinks to the same level. I wasn’t familiar with Armitage, the closest thing the movie has to a leading man, but his performance is so wooden that I was actually shocked to discover that he’s had a decent career up to this point. There are other characters on the periphery of the film – interns assisting the storm chasers, the high school dream girl, the town coot – but none of them liven things up either. The destruction is followed by a limp postscript which seems intended to stir warm feelings about….I don’t know, the triumph of the human spirit? The goodness of humanity? Murica? But it was laughable. Unfortunately, it was about the only moment in the film that rose even to that level of enjoyment. A “humorous” post-postscript, about the viral video idiots, elicited groans rather than laughter.
Into the Storm drove home something I’ve never understood before: Twister was dumb, but it was brightly, cheerfully, irresistibly dumb. There is nothing irresistible about Into the Storm except, of course, the force of the massive tornado, pulling in everything in its path. A resident of Silverton makes the obvious joke that tornadoes suck. Yes, they certainly do. And this movie blows.