Into the Storm is a whole bunch of unbelievably dull sound and fury signifying nothing.
Found footage requires suspension of disbelief. It requires enormous suspension of disbelief. It requires you to believe that cameras are nearly indestructible and have infinite battery lives, that the people holding them are both too stupid to stop filming and just run, have had no prior experiences with holding a camera before because nobody shakes a camera that damn much and are profoundly selfish people for continuing to record proceedings instead of helping other out, and that there is someone out there who felt the need to edit the traumatic experiences that a bunch of people went through and release the resulting borderline snuff-film to the general public.
Like I said, this requires an enormous suspension of disbelief and it’s why the best ones either keep the gimmick as minimalist as possible (see: The Blair Witch Project) or provide enough of an emotional connection to the characters and world being filmed that the bells and whistles don’t distract as much as they should (see: Earth to Echo). Would some of these films be far better if they didn’t stick to their conceit? Mostly, yeah, that’s why District 9 and End of Watch eventually do just drop the found-footage angle. It’s why Chronicle managed to engineer an in-story way to have its lead character be able to keep the camera steady and provide different angles and the like when filming.
I bring this up because Into the Storm has been hiding a key component of its DNA from its marketing, presumably because 2014 hasn’t been good for found-footage financially (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, Devil’s Due, the aforementioned Earth to Echo unfortunately), and that is the fact that this is a found-footage disaster movie. And not a simple one, either, where it’s just one guy with a camera. This is a film with about 200 different cameras, most of them recording different things, several of them destroyed at some point, many by characters who never even cross paths, multiple times do camera-operators in the film stand around filming the leads trying to save somebody instead of helping, and yet it can’t even keep up its conceit the whole way through. We are supposed to be watching a film, one made in-universe by somebody at some point, yet we keep getting shots and footage that make no sense in the found-footage conceit. Lots of CG shots of destruction from far away, several from inside some of the tornadoes, some that manage to be totally still even whilst stuck in the path of a tornado. It’s not like End of Watch or District 9 or Chronicle where it’s obvious what’s found-footage and what isn’t or that you’re just viewing events through cameras in-universe instead of a constructed film, this is supposed to be a constructed film but it cheats frequently without being clear as to when it is doing so.
So, in the end, I spent a lot of the time sat there wondering how these shots were being constructed. How is this fitting in the film’s universe? All the found-footage ends up doing is being a major distraction, something that kept pulling me out of the movie constantly. “But, Callie,” regular readers may be going, “Didn’t Earth to Echo have a similar kind of where-is-the-footage-coming-from-issue? You gave that a pass, remember?” That I did, because the found-footage conceit never got in the way of the tale, of the emotional centre, of the strong characters. By contrast, Into the Storm has nothing. Oh, sure, it has characters in the barest sense, in that they have names and characteristics and arcs, but they are all paper-thin and the film doesn’t really seem to care about their existence.
There’s our supposed lead, a high school vice principal (Richard Armitage) with two sons, one of whom is socially awkward (Max Deacon) and has a crush on a popular girl (Alycia Debnam-Carey), the other of whom is a bit of a douche (Nathan Kress) and both of whom resent him because he alternately forgets they exist or is all up in their respective grills. There’s a team of storm chasers headed by a leader who is a dick who only cares about the footage until he doesn’t (Matt Walsh, for some reason), a storm expert who has been away from her daughter for too long (Sarah Wayne Callies), and two friends (Arlen Escarpeta and Jeremy Sumpter) one of which isn’t cut out for this line of work. And there are also two redneck hillbilly stereotypes (Kyle Davis and Jon Reep) who want to be YouTube stars and are here for exactly the reasons you’re thinking of.
That is the extent of the film’s interest in its characters. Everybody goes through all of their arcs, all of which you’ve seen done a million times before – the race against time to rescue the vice principal’s eldest son and the son’s crush will only seem fresh if you simply have managed to block The Day After Tomorrow from your memory for the last decade – and all performed by characters spouting exposition and their current thoughts and feelings at one another in an extremely clunky fashion, but there’s no interest in them. It’s like the film resents having to spend time with these people. I mean, I don’t blame them, especially since none of the actors even attempt to elevate this stuff. Richard Armitage shouts gruffly, Sarah Wayne Callies looks and talks concerned, Matt Walsh acts like a dick until he doesn’t, Kyle Davis and Jon Reep play up their redneck hillbilly stereotypes to the point of insufferability, Nathan Kress acts like a douche. They don’t even attempt to ham the thing up to enjoyable B-movie levels in order to make up for the lack of characters; everyone’s trying too hard, trying to be all serious serious. Speaking of, sometimes the film briefly pretends like it wants to be a stark warning about climate change and you get one guess as to how well it pulls it off.
Instead, the film just wants to destroy stuff. Which would be fine, I guess – forgive me for wanting a bit more out of my disaster movies – if the effects were good and if the whole enterprise weren’t so mind-numbingly boring. The tornadoes look like a CGI cutscene in a PlayStation 3 game circa 2007, green-screening is prominent and very obvious, certain effects are of a much lower resolution and quality than the rest, that bit in the trailer with the planes and the airport is still laughably dreadful-looking, and the inevitable moment where we go into the big monster tornado (which itself looks like Parallax from Warner Bros’ Green Lantern movie) looks as good as the bit in The Matrix Revolutions where Neo and Trinity try to burst through the real world’s sky. It’s all so, so, so cheap, just barely above a Syfy Original Movie (don’t even get me started on how poor fire looks), which wouldn’t be such a problem if it had stuff going on that didn’t involve destroying stuff. If the only thing you want to do is smash stuff real purdy-like, you need to come correct with excellent effects and, unfortunately for Into the Storm, every other Summer blockbuster so far this year soundly trashes it when it comes to destruction porn.
There is one part of the film’s marketing that was completely accurate, mind. The ads made no secret of the fact that this was going to be a loud film. And it is. It is very loud, it is ridiculously loud; if I were in the screen next door, I guarantee that I would have heard it shake like an earthquake was about to go off. Once a tornado hits, every speaker is filled with ear-rupturing booms, the score is drowned out by the chaos on screen, and the “LOUD NOISES” setting is held at a sustained peak for far longer than is tolerable. The combination of the sheer volume of the film and the handheld nature of most of its shots worked to leave me exiting the cinema once the credits rolled with a splitting headache, a sensation that hasn’t happened to me since A Good Day to Die Hard last year. One could claim that that meant the film had succeeded in its aim, that I had been taken into the proverbial storm, as it were, and that I should applaud the filmmakers in their achievements. Bollocks to that, I would reply. I was instead subjected to the 90 minute equivalent of being trapped on a non-stop tilt-a-whirl at the loudest and most obnoxious speed metal concert around, and that’s not particularly an experience I want out of my movies.
Plus, Into the Storm is just so unrelentingly boring. There are no stakes because none of the characters have any depth or the attention of the film, there are no thrills because the effects stink, there’s no tension because the film goes so loud for so long that it numbs all of the senses, there’s no fun because the only comedy comes from outdated redneck hillbilly stereotypes who exist for exactly the reason you’re thinking of… It’s just noise. Seemingly endless noise. It’s just sound and fury signifying nothing. Folks, at time of writing, I am just about 24 hours removed from seeing this film and I remember nothing. I mean, I remember the ways in which it doesn’t work, but I remember no specifics. I don’t remember any character’s names, I don’t remember anything that was said, I don’t remember any particular scene, I don’t remember which two of the supposedly important cast actually dies, nothing. Hell, by the time I’d made the hour’s drive back home after seeing it, I had basically forgotten about the whole thing by then. The only things that proved that I had actually been to see Into the Storm were a lowered fuel gage on my car’s dashboard and a headache that had partially subsided on the drive back.
This one sucks, folks. It sucks real bad. Don’t give it the time of day.
Callie Petch missed their chance to find out that.