Into the Storm (United States, 2014)

August 08, 2014
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Into the Storm Poster

Into the Storm is as straightforward a disaster film as you're likely to find. It has all the characteristics of the genre. The narrative trajectory is linear and uncomplicated. The two-dimensional characters are entrenched in their own flimsy, soap opera-ish storylines. The acting varies from over-the-top to wooden. Human suffering, although given lip service, isn't high on the filmmakers' priority list. Most importantly, however, the destruction and carnage is presented with verve and flair, making this a fine example of tornado porn. The twisters in this film don't take people over the rainbow. They smash, shred, and do other nasty things to them.

Despite these characteristics, or perhaps because of them, Into the Storm is an entertaining motion picture, although the way it enthralls puts it close to the "guilty pleasure" category. There are three keys to the movie's success. By combining traditional filmmaking techniques and "found footage" clips, director Steve Quale is able to generate a sense of urgency. He also understands how to build momentum leading up to a big moment. There are no annoying and unnecessary villains in the film - this allows the weather to take its rightful place as the antagonist. Finally, the various backstories and subplots of the wafer-thin characters are limited in scope and duration. This allows the movie to clock in at a lean 89 minutes. The lack of bloat - a common trait of too many disaster films - makes Into the Storm refreshing. It moves quickly, is never boring, and offers some cool tornado shots that look like the real thing.

This is not Twister 2. The only elements common to Into the Storm and the 1996 Jan de Bont thriller are that they both depict computer generated storms and employ speaker rattling sound that delivers an auditory punch. Into the Storm has no scenery-chewing Cary Elwes, no half-baked romance between the leads, and (most notably) no flying cows. Yet Into the Storm is fun for the reason Twister is fun - because it puts viewers into harrowing situations without subjecting their bodies to danger.

The film follows two groups of characters. The first is a team of storm chasers led by documentary filmmaker Pete (Matt Walsh) and meteorologist Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies). They have come to hurricane alley in search of Pete's "money shot" - footage from within the eye of the tornado. Meanwhile, local high school assistant principal Gary (Richard Armitage, looking nothing like Thorin Oakenshield) is debating whether to cancel graduation due to bad weather reports. He suggests the possibility to the principal, who rejects the idea out-of-hand. This decision will have ramifications for Gary's two sons, Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress), and Donnie's long-time crush, Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam Carey).

The storm chasers and some of the situations in which they find themselves are based on the real-life individuals who populated the late Discovery Channel series, Storm Chasers. Pete is a thinly-veiled version of documentarian Sean Casey and Pete's armor-plated vehicle resembles Casey's storm-proof TIV. Many of Casey's traits can be found in Pete: a prickly personality, an obsessive desire to "get the shot," and an underlying respect for the power of storms. Because of that, Pete is Into the Storm's only interesting character. Everyone else is a type and, in some cases, a poorly defined type. The tornados have more personality than some of the secondary individuals.

The special effects are solid in their representations of storms, even if there aren't any cows. This being a Hollywood production, "normal" tornados, despite their ability to visit devastation upon populated areas, aren't flashy enough. So there's a scene in which four of five tornados drop down at once, a twister that sucks up flaming fuel and turns into an inferno, and a monster EF5. I suspect meteorologists might not be pleased with Into the Storm's sensationalism but, for a layperson, it shouldn't be hard to suspend disbelief. The post-storm devastation looks all-too-real and dampens the fun a little. The movie is fiction but some of those scenes have documentary qualities.

Into the Storm's marketing campaign makes the movie seem overwrought, loud, melodramatic, and cheesy. In a sense, it's all of those things but the proportions are better in the feature than in the trailers. And none of those things matter in the face of the majesty of the tornados, which are rendered with a frightening realism. In the end, Into the Storm doesn't aspire to be more than what it is: a well-constructed disaster film.

Into the Storm (United States, 2014)

Run Time: 1:29
U.S. Release Date: 2014-08-08
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Violence, Disaster Sequences)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1