Into the Storm is uneventfully being dumped into theaters this weekend with a logline I won’t dare try to stretch into a lengthy synopsis. It reads as follows:
“Storm trackers, thrill-seekers, and everyday townspeople document an unprecedented onslaught of tornadoes touching down in the town of Silverton.”
At this point you may be finding yourself a bit perplexed, maybe even infuriated by the idea that out of the 10,000 scripts Warner Bros. likely receives every year, they chose this one to greenlight. But fear not readers, Into the Storm isn’t the unmitigated disaster it appears to be. It’s much worse.
Directed by Steven Quale (whose directorial credits, Final Destination 5 and Aliens of the Deep, are often considered the universal symbols of prestige) the film opens with brothers Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress) creating time capsules — short, reflective videos for their future selves to look back at in 25 years. It’s a project assigned to them by their militaristic widower dad (Richard Armitage), who also doubles as the vice principal at their high school. Their task? To create a documentary about the school’s graduating class (of which they’re not a part) whose throwing their caps in the air today. For these underclassmen, the only upside to this listless endeavor is that it yields an opportunity for Donnie to approach his dream girl Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam Carey), who, conveniently, is in desperate need of a videographer.
This material is delivered to us pretty much from the outset. While its prescience is unquestionably admirable, it’s an introduction that shows its hand even before all the cards have been dealt out. Into the Storm proposes to be about “storm trackers” and “thrill seekers,” but is consistently cluttered with this type of familial melodrama. Two sons who never seem to be quite good enough for their insatiable father is a sappy, conventional plotline only exacerbated here by a subplot involving Allison, a young mother who feels a tremendous amount of guilt for choosing storm-chasing work over a 5-year-old daughter she’s been separated from for three months. Perhaps in another film these baroquely rendered storylines would fit into place, illicit emotion and empathy, inform and enlighten. But not here. Not in a film titled Into the Storm – which, eventually, does deliver a few exhilarating moments of the CGI-laced action sequences its title promises.
When not drowning in Lifetime channel-like dramatics, the film is a deluge of special effects. Towering tornadoes and large gusts of wind propel the film and its characters into complete chaos. Homes are being reduced to splinters, cars are ascending into the air, people are frantically running around, yelling and screaming, debris is everywhere. Most of this destruction and disarray is seen through the eyes of the documentarian (Pete played Matt Walsh) and his crew, who are filming the monstrous storm up close.
Even at its height, Into the Storm is never as terrifying or galvanizing as something like Twister, a superior film that similarly charted the adventures of storm chasers who find themselves in the crosshairs of a calamitous tornado. And that picture was made in 1996. Of course, in the intervening years technology has evolved exponentially, but it’s not the verisimilitude of the storm that builds terror, it’s the presentation. The Category 5 cyclones created here, although more authentic than anything you’ll see in Jan de Bont’s film, don’t arrive with the same sense of horror and dread we’ve experienced in the past.
However, the greater issue at play here is not the size or construction of the storm, but how Swetnam’s characters respond to it. In multiple scenes the suspense is predicated on whether people’s cell reception is good. This leads to characters spewing lines of asinine dialogue like, “my phone is not working!” or “I don’t have service!” — each person more shocked, stunned, and stupefied by this crippling realization of technological abandonment than the next. Their uniform cluelessness is even more vexing considering, you know, they’re expecting to complete a call in the midst of a storm that has obliterated everyone and everything in its path.
I’d be remiss not to mention Donk (Kyle Davis) and Reevis (Jon Reep), a pair of drunken buffoons who ride around Silverton in their red truck (called “Twista Hunter”) looking for trouble, or more accurately, anything that will garner them fame on Youtube. As you probably deduced from the names “Donk” and “Reevis,” these are the brightest bulbs in the rooms. And quite frankly, they don’t add much to the movie, aside from contributing to this country’s ongoing fetishization of the hillbilly moron who — although very, very dumb — really does mean well.
Into the Storm means well in this same sort of manner, too. Only Hollywood could end a movie in which hundreds of lives are destroyed on a note of optimism. “Live everyday to the fullest,” Donnie explains before the credits roll, “because you never know when it may be your last.”
Indeed, who knows when this is all going to end. But I can assure you this, no matter who you are, life is too short, too ephemeral, too precious to spend money and time on this movie.
The Upside: The movie is 89 minutes long.
The Downside: The movie is 89 minutes long.
On the Side: The writer of Into the Storm is the same writer of Step Up All In, which also comes out today in wide-release.