Breaking news: anyone who goes to see movie called Into the Storm is probably more interested in “the Storm” than they are in any of the people running away from it. The good news is the film understands this, to an extent, and clocks in at a slender 89 minutes. Of course, the titular Storm doesn’t appear for every one of those 89 minutes. This is very bad news because Into the Storm is populated with characters and storylines that are both forgettable and irritating. It’s basically Twister with somewhat better effects, but much less interesting people.
Into the Storm is mostly set in and around the fictional town of Silverton, Okla. A group of storm-chasers — led by cranky, road-weary Pete (Matt Walsh) — has been struggling to film tornadoes, and Pete is taking out his frustrations on the entire team. That includes data-driven meteorologist Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies), who steers the team toward Silverton. The decision looks like a bust until a dissipating system comes back with a vengeance. The storm erupts during a high school commencement ceremony, where Vice Principal Gary Fuller (Richard Armitage) realizes his oldest son is missing (and very inconveniently hanging out in an abandoned paper mill with his would-be dream girl). Gary eventually crosses path with the storm chasers, who help him in his quest to find and rescue his boy.
It’s a simple, straightforward story told in the most tedious way possible. The script by John Swetnam gives us some unnecessary, paint-by-numbers domestic tension between Gary and his two boys, Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress). In my opinion, having a child in a life-threatening situation is dramatic enough; you don’t need Gary to be a terse, distant parent just so he could spring into action and become Super Dad. (Unless the movie is trying to say this killer storm is secretly the best thing that could happen to this family.)
And wouldn’t you know it, but Gary finds a kindred spirit Allison, another single parent who struggles to spend enough time with her kid. (The movie doesn’t feature any overt romantic overtones, but the implication is that this storm is even better than Match.com!) I haven’t even mentioned the inclusion of a pair of amateur daredevils named Donk (Kyle Davis) and Reevis (Jon Reep). They’re supposed to be the film’s comic relief, but their attempts at humor fall as flat on their faces as the duo’s YouTube-baiting stunts. At least Donk and Reevis seem to be the only characters who realize they’re appearing in what would ideally be a rollicking, trashy B movie.
The confusion extends to the presentation of the film itself. Into the Storm is nominally a found-footage disaster flick, but director Steven Quale (Final Destination 5, along with work as a second unit director for Avatar and Titanic) doesn’t fully commit. It’s disappointing because as played out as the found footage cinematic device has become, I actually think a movie about storm chasers lends itself quite naturally to the form. The majority of the movie is presented through the storm chasers’ filmmaking equipment and the cameras Gary asked his sons to carry for a video time capsule. Yet every few minutes, the movie reverts back to a more cinematic presentation, which includes a generically thrilling score by Brian Tyler and illustrates further mistrust in the story’s ability to generate drama without adding contrivances. Either be a found footage movie, or don’t be a found footage movie!
It doesn’t help that the actors don’t exactly elevate the material. I mean, Twister is no one’s idea of a cinematic masterpiece, but that movie had competent, charismatic actors — Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt, Cary Elwes, Philip Seymour Hoffman — who could certainly hold our attention on screen while the movie’s real star was getting a breather. Into the Storm has a wildly miscast Armitage (The Hobbit‘s Thorin Oakenshield) using none of the dangerous charisma and very little of the command that are his strong suits. Callies (The Walking Dead) strives for some emotional notes (with Allison’s daughter) that the film isn’t quite equipped to handle. Walsh (Veep) fares the best out of the three main leads with his unforced, surly work. I also enjoyed Kress as Gary’s younger, more spirited son.
Ironically (but not surprisingly) the film’s bright spots come whenever the sky darkens. Working from a relatively modest $50 million budget — at least compared to your average summer tentpole film — Into the Storm delivers some truly impressive cinematic devastation. (And a variety of tornadoes.) A few of the visuals do pop, including a “firenado” that sucks up a poor crew member, and the moment where a character gets a serene look at the inside of a massive twister. The movie actually opens with a quick, effective scene of a tornado playing the role of horror movie villain by popping up unexpectedly in the middle of the night and killing a quartet of high schoolers. Unfortunately, the weather calms down for the next half hour or so as the unappealing main story unfolds. I really don’t think it was the filmmakers’ intent, but you’ll be rooting for the Storm.
Into the Storm is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average of 19 mpbs. This movie offers a tricky visual challenge, given the way it straddles the line between lo-fi found footage film and special effects extravaganza. I’m happy to report this Warner Bros. Blu-ray nicely captures and reproduces both sides of the film’s identity. Black levels are inky and display a terrific amount of separation in that opening sequence. (Even in the pitch blackness of night, you can easily make out the tornado swirling into action.) A lot of the picture is (intentionally) softer and grainier than the average HD presentation because it is supposedly being captured by handheld and cell phone cameras. But whenever the movie’s cinematic tendencies butt in, you can see a clean, clear baseline image. There’s obviously not a lot of color that pops here, but the film’s gray, cloudy palette does offer some solid shading and texture.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track gives a grander sense of devastation than even the visual presentation. You expect the subs to rumble to life whenever thunder strikes, but this is a powerful, all-consuming track that uses the entire surround sound field to immerse the viewer in the storm. There’s also some tremendous separation and nuance, which highlights the strong sound design on display. I also appreciated the nice detail of having the dialogue captured by cell phone cameras be slightly muddled, given that most cell phones don’t come with boom mics to capture flawless audio. I do wish Tyler’s intrusive score had stayed away altogether, but this is still a remarkable presentation and easily the highlight of this disc.
All of the bonus material is presented in HD.
Into the Storm — Tornado Files: (10:48) A de-facto “Making of” that features input from Quale and the visual effects team. There’s also real-life storm chaser Reed Timmer discussing the different types of tornadoes highlighted in the movie. (Wedge, rope, and super cell.) Listening to Timmer discuss the science behind the storms and picking up on his passion for the work made me wish the movie had incorporated some of *that* into its story. (Conversely, the Pete character in the film mostly seems bored and annoyed that his boss is going to yell at him for not filming a storm.)
Titus — The Ultimate Storm-Chasing Vehicle: (8:23) Includes a look at the real-life vehicle (the Dominator 3) that inspired the film’s imposing counterpart. We also find out there were enough technical glitches with the Titus that it earned the nickname “Bruce,” a nod to the troublesome mechanical shark from Jaws.
Fake Storms, Real Conditions: (5:37) The actors talk about the (rain, wind, fake hail) beating they took during filming, and how it helped them get into character more easily.
As strong as the A/V properties of this Blu-ray are, the film loses a significant part of its oomph away from the big screen. That’s a problem because special effects “oomph” is pretty much all this movie has going for it.
Into the Storm is neither smart enough to be good, nor dumb enough to be “so bad it’s good.” This one is only recommended for the most avid fans of disaster porn.