Into the Storm | Director Steven Quayle | Score: 4.7
If you think about it, there’s truly not much of a legacy to tarnish when it comes to Hollywood storm movies, at least over the past couple of decades. There’s Twister, of course, the Michael Crichton-penned flick from 1996 that featured a bunch of wholly unrealistic (and blithely irritating) characters — despite having actors such as Philip Seymour Hoffman, Helen Hunt, Alan Ruck and Jeremy Davies playing them — chasing after tornadoes and their own misplaced love lives; something called Stonado, which apparently came out last year and seems to have featured giant, funnel-cloud driven boulders destroying Boston; and, if you want to really get to the dregs, the various “Sharknado” affairs from the Syfy channel. Not a prodigiously robust sub-genre, it would seem.
So it comes as a fairly backhanded compliment when I say Steven Quayle’s bad storm rising flick is easily the most consistently entertaining of the bunch. It might be laced with a series of half-assed backstories for its storm-chasing characters, but it has little of Crichton’s agonizingly forced bonhomie dialogue and trite story-telling, and offers up magnificent looking CGI storms sans boulders, sharks, artillery shells, or mastodons, so we should give credit where due. That said, you’re still not getting a whole lot more than all that breathless CGI, and some pretty realistic high-winds effects with the actors being sucked into the vortex and trying to hold on for dear life. Character-wise, we’re still operating at a pretty rudimentary level; and a majority of the dialogue is either clumsily expositional, or fiercely declarative (“Oh, no, the grate’s loose!” “It’s on fire!” “Grab onto something!”): It’s a screenplay built around the exclamation point.
The film chronicles a small swath of the southern Midwest on what might be the worst weather day in the world’s history, and a bunch of different but oft-intersecting characters experiencing this horror from various angles and vantage points. There’s the professional storm chasers, lead by sad-sack taskmaster Pete (Matt Walsh), who relentlessly pushes his crew, including meteorologist Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies), driver Daryl (Arlen Escarpeta), and cameraman Jacob (Jeremy Sumpter). Then there are brothers Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress), whose tough, unemotional father, Gary (Richard Armitage), happens to be the vice-principal of their high school. And, satisfying the redneck bro perspective, we have Donk (Kyle Davis) and Reevis (Jon Reep), amateur youtube daredevils, running around trying to capture the storm while drunk off their asses on an ATV.
When the first storms start to hit — appetizers to a monster of a main course — the various pockets of characters are all under very different circumstances: The storm-chasers are driving around desperately trying to drive their mammoth tank-like vehicle into the storm in order to get never-before-seen footage from inside the eye itself; Donnie is off with his major high-school crush (Alycia Debnam Carey), helping her film a news clip from inside an abandoned paper mill, while Trey and his dad are at the high-school’s graduation ceremony; and the rednecks are cavorting around on their ATV, more or less playing like kids at recess as the storm rages around them. Naturally, everything eventually culminates in the granddaddy spectacle — “the biggest storm there has ever been,” claims one character — who takes dead aim at our protagonists and gives them the 300 mph wind-thrashing of their lives while tossing houses, trucks and airplanes around like so many dried leaves.
The film is sort of carved out of various bits of found footage, but not so as you’d really notice: It’s too marketing savvy to let itself be dragged into that sort of complicated set-up where coverage is lost and audiences’ mettle is tested. There are indeed many shots supposedly taken by hand-held phones, cameras, security tapes, and go-pros, but Quayle and his DP, Brian Pearson, cheat like crazy to give the viewer more or less uninterrupted coverage of the money shots. They don’t treat the technical conceit as a confinement, in other words, just a suggestion. If all Pete seems to care about is the footage he can gather of this fateful day — which he could then use to finish his documentary film and make a financial killing in the process, the filmmakers themselves are in a similar position and don’t really bother to play it otherwise.
As for the CGI itself, it’s quite a referendum on the medium from the vastly inferior work seen back in 1996’s aforementioned Twister — the wind effects alone are especially eerie — but there’s still not the magic catch-in-throat realism that would really give these storms their bite. Some of this is due to Quayle’s restless pacing, which never quite seems to give us enough lead-up before something else hits. To go back to the dinner metaphor, the dishes keep pouring out of the kitchen before we’ve really built up a hungry anticipation for what’s next. The wind howls like a mother and the earth is torn to shreds, but the storms never truly suck the air out of our lungs, which is about all the film has to offer.
Piers Marchant is a Philly-based writer and editor, and the EIC (and film critic) for two.one.five magazine (215mag.com). His reviews can be found on 215mag.com and his tumblr blog, Sweet Smell of Success. You can also follow him on twitter @kafkaesque83.
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