Into the Storm, the latest film from director Steven Quale (Aliens of the Deep, Final Destination 5), becomes such an incredibly cheesy affair that I half expected to hear Sam Cooke singing "Twistin' the Night Away" at some point during the film. Fortunately, that doesn't happen but for a film that so vividly and powerfully captures the true torment of a twister, or in this case multiple twisters, there's far too much of the time when Into the Night is more giggle inducing than chilling or thrilling.
Penned by John Swetnam, also responsible for last year's Evidence and this month's latest journey with the Step Up dancers, Into the Storm is somehow credited as an original screenplay yet bears an amazing resemblance to a certain Jan DeBont film from a few years back that hard vastly inferior special effects yet a more involving story and vastly superior performances featuring the likes of Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, and a younger Philip Seymour Hoffman.
This film really doesn't have familiar names, though certainly some will recognize Richard Armitage from his performances as Thorin Oakenshield in the Hobbit films and even Sarah Wayne Callies from The Walking Dead. For the most part, these are unfamiliar folks who don't get much more familiar over the course of the film, a fact that manifests to the detriment of the film's effectiveness as the twisters become more and more harrowing.
The film kicks off with the Titus Team, a not so merry band of storm chasers who've been in a bit of a dry spell and haven't even spotted an actual twister for the better part of a year. Helmed by showman Pete (Matt Walsh), whose fierce determination to get an "eye of the storm" shot for his planned documentary often comes at the expense of his humanity, the Titus Team is so named because they go around in what is billed as a tornado proof vehicle that can anchor itself into the Earth and withstand winds of up to 170 mph.
Um, yeah. I guess we don't know that's going to be tested, eh?
The team's main conflict comes in the form of Pete's general trust of his gut instinct and how often that conflicts with the data-driven opinions of the team's lead scientist, Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies). When what is appearing to be a massive storm is spotted heading into a multi-state region that includes Oklahoma, Pete and Allison fuss and fight for a few minutes before heading off to hopefully be in place when the storm arrives in the town of Silverton, a town where the local high school is getting ready to have its outdoor high school graduation. We meet up with Gary (Richard Armitage), the no nonsense father of Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress), all of whom have created enough family tension to start their own psychological tornado of sorts. The two siblings are scheduled to be videographers for the afternoon's festivities, but Donnie gets distracted by longtime crush Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam Carey), whom he promises to help re-shoot a video project she's epically failed at producing. Of course, the two end up isolated within a long abandoned factory that will put their lives in jeopardy and cause the previously distant father to realize his unwavering love for his kiddoes has no limits.
Did I mention there are twisters?
Actually, as someone who lives in Indiana and has experienced my own share of twisters I found myself thinking on more than one occasion that if you've actually ever had a traumatic tornado experience then this is a film that could potentially be traumatizing. Technology has changed a lot in the last few years and, quite clearly, Quale hasn't spared any expense in creating some pretty magnificent looking twisters doing incredibly major damage. As the story goes, and as is readily obvious from the film's trailers, the massive storm that hits Silverton spawns not one or two or three but multiple twisters that often simultaneously appear and wreak havoc while pretty much destroying the entire town.
While I found myself tempted to truly trash the poorly written story with cringe-inducing dialogue, the simple truth is that there are things to admire about Into the Storm even if it is a bit sad that nearly all of the things involve the film's technology rather than the story, acting, performances, or characters. While the film is an obvious cousin to Twister, it also bears a mighty strong resemblance to the Blair Witch Project and its found footage, shaky camera, and awkwardly confessional style.
I mean, I swear I never want to hear the words "I love you so much" again.
The film gets comic relief from a couple of local yokels named Donk (Kyle Davis) and Reevis (Jon Reep), two wannabe internet stars whom I'm guessing can't even spell stars. The two spend most of their time early on filming Jackass style stunts before becoming consumed with chasing the storms in the most ridiculous of ways.
There are moments in Into the Storm when it reminded me of the 70's action/adventure flicks like Earthquake and other natural disaster flicks. In those moments, it is actually a decently involving film even if the dialogue does repeatedly sabotage it. It should be noted that Into the Storm is a PG-13 rated film, so while it definitely shows the power of mass destruction it does so for the most part in a way that is less graphic and less jarring than you might expect. The film feels, whether it is or not, just realistic enough that it grips you even with a weak script and dialogue. While it's hard not to wonder if Quale is grasping for some sort of dialogue on environmental issues given the immensity and larger than life nature of these storms, for the most part Into the Storm is simply about life inside these storms and the sheer power of that experience.
Not surprisingly, there are scenes that don't quite resonate. For example, the town is portrayed throughout much of the film as a rather small town yet there's a scene involving an airport that leaves you completely surprised because it just feels completely out of place amongst the surrounding farm land. Additionally, there are times that we'll be hearing how everything's dead only to hear newscasts going on in the background.
The list goes on.
The performances in Into the Storm are mostly of the serviceable variety, with only Richard Armitage and Sarah Wayne Callies having any genuinely involving moments. Armitage, a British actor trying his darndest with an American accident, plays a more stoic and serious figure than we typically see him play, while Callies for the most part convinces as a single mom trying to balance her job with the fact that her five-year-old daughter is at home missing her mommy.
Into the Storm doesn't quite deserve a recommendation, though if all you're looking for is a truly intense natural disaster flick then it should more than meet your needs. The film is an immensely flawed yet still occasionally involving film with remarkable special effects, minus a couple of cheesier scenes, and a disturbing look at what is a real life experience for many folks who've lived through twisters.
The film opens in theaters nationwide on August 8th.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic