By Will Ashton
As far as the summer movie season goes, August is basically the dumping grounds of the season. That said, however, Guardians of the Galaxy opened the dog days of summer with a laid-back, tongue-in-cheek level of entertainment not typically reserved in movies this time of year. In a pretty good movie summer, perhaps August was not going to be as bad as one would think. Right?
Well, unfortunately, Into the Storm comes blowing into the summer season proving that—ultimately—August is probably not going to any more fun than it usually ever is.
Set in a decidedly vague state in Middle America, this new tornado movie follows in the same vein as Cloverfield and Chronicle by taking a blockbuster story and showing it in a more grounded style. Showcasing three-to-four storylines primarily, the movie focuses its attention on a group of storm chasers, lead by an egotistic filmmaker Pete (Matt Walsh, in a sadly serious performance), as well as a trouble relationship between a vice principal at a local high school (Richard Armitage) and his two sons, Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress).
Each and every one has their problems and their differences. But that doesn’t matter, because they are going to get over them when giant tornadoes destroy all the property. That’s right, ALL THE PROPERTY!
If that character description sounds intentionally lazy, it’s because I am giving it as much depth and care as the writer (John Swetnam) and director (Steven Quale) give in their efforts. They try at making these characters believable here and there, although they are only the mildest of attempts to keep the movie moving when giant tornadoes are not on the screen. Besides Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies) and occasionally Deacon, however, none of these people feel genuine, real and therefore likeable.
Walsh has always been a likeable screen presence, but because his character is meant to be so sullen and serious all the time, he is unable to ever play up his natural, normal guy charm. Additionally, as he did in the Hobbit movies, Armitage is continuing to prove that he cannot cast any sense of charisma. It’s not for a lack of trying, but, no matter how hard he tries, he cannot give any sense of genuine presence.
Coming from a sitcom background, Kress tries way too hard to make any of the movie’s awkward comedy beats believable. As the love interest, Alycia Debnam Carey tries so, so hard to make her pancake flat character believable, but even Judi Dench couldn’t make it work.
By and far, however, the worst characters—and aspect—of this movie come from a par of hicks (Kyle Davis and Jon Reep). As a pair of stereotypical hillbillies trying to make their names for themselves as YouTube celebrities, they never, ever act in any way that is natural and believable. Worse yet, they want to serve as the movie’s comic relief, but are only painfully unfunny and do absolutely nothing for the main plot of the story. What little there is of it, anyway.
The biggest problem with Into the Storm, however, is that it never accomplishes the one thing it tries to be: a found footage movie. For whatever shortcomings Cloverfield and Chronicle had, at least they were consistent in their style. Into the Storm bounces back from being a found footage to a real movie so much that it makes no real sense why they would make this a found footage movie in the first place.
The only real reasons would be A. to separate it from any connects to Twister (even though they pay homage to it towards the last act) and B. to bank on an ever-declining film trend. All the found footage aspects do here is cause excuses for the characters having cameras. Unless they are in a car whenever a twister is happening, they never truly ground the movie, and, worse of all, they cause some of the cheesiest fake TV confessionals that have ever been put in a film. It always feels like a last-minute rewrite or decision, and the cracks show throughout.
But, most people going into this movie could probably care less about the characters and the style the movie is presented. All they want—probably—is to see some cool tornadoes. In that regard, that is where the movie seems most at ease, and where, naturally, it gets its best moments.
The visual effects range from impressive to B-movie level, and switch between the two almost constantly. But what really sells them is the sound mixing and designing from Geoffrey Patterson and Christopher Assells. No matter what leads up to it, when the twisters come and you’re in a loud theater, you feel them. Bringing some excitement to a movie that constantly feels without it.
There is little about Into the Storm that separates it from any Asylum film on SyFy, except for the fact that the movie is not self aware of itself. While the effects—and sometimes the acting—may be better than your average TV movie, there is little here that hasn’t been seen before, and done better.
Honestly, when there are already shows on TV like Storm Chasers on the Discovery Channel showing real people chasing real tornadoes, why would anyone pay $10 or more just to see a bunch of actors in front of a green-screen running away from CG natural disasters? Needless to say, this shouldn’t blow anyone away.