Carnadoes, planenadoes, and flamenadoes – oh my! If you thought a Sharknado was the zaniest weather occurrence to hit Hollywood, well, you’d still be right, but Into The Storm is pretty damn crazy for a more realistic take on Mother Nature’s wrath! You see kids, sometimes when one superpowered storm system loves another superpowered storm system, they have a whole gaggle of obnoxious tornado babies who like turning small towns into rubble. Then, once they mature, they form the world’s largest recorded tornado, and a windy bit of Hell touches down on Earth. Rushing cyclones, flattened houses, daredevil rednecks, swirling debris – all the weatherbug action is rather intense, but then characters have to go do something silly like open their mouths and attempt pithy dialogue. Herein lies the problem with Steven Quale’s latest disasterpiece, because while moments of intensity ravage an ambitious team of storm chasers, flaccid writing can’t connect a single passable scene between white-knuckle moments of pure, horrifying unpredictability.
Into The Storm follows a documentary filmmaking team looking for some exclusive tornado footage, but unfortunately their trip hasn’t yielded any results thus far. With time running out, the film’s director, Pete (Matt Walsh), puts his trust in his tracker Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies) one last time. Ending up in the town of Silverton, the lead appears to be a dead end, but just as all hope seems lost, a weather system forms out of nowhere, bringing with it some of the most dangerous tornado action ever recorded. While Pete looks for his exclusive content, the rest of his crew thinks about their own survival, as the tornadoes only become more and more violent. Is a once in a lifetime shot worth giving up an actual lifetime for?
It’s true that Into The Storm is a shamefully underutilized one-trick-pony, as tornadoes create the only redeemable moments to be found. Even for a horror/thriller, audiences are exposed to dreadfully ridged character development on-par with some of television’s worst “After School Specials,” running a gamut of stereotypes, emotional sabotage, and predictably cheesy outcomes. Writer John Swetnam grasps at a larger theme of living life to the fullest, changing lives through the destruction, but these sweeter notes are improperly balanced and haphazardly scattered about. There’s an awkward feeling as if we’re watching a briefly violent Public Service Announcement about avoiding gigantic tornadoes, complete with stock footage of waving American flags and sociopolitical nods to disaster relief treatment, showcasing some of the most disconnected acting captured in years.
While I could spend an entire essay dissecting each character and their unfortunate construction, there are a few arcs that stand out as absolute scene-stealers in the WORST of ways. Poor Richard Armitage comes to mind first, playing a vice principal who can’t be bothered by his children (Max Deacon and Nathan Kress), an overly dramatized relationship struggle destined for angsty child behavior and irrational fatherly coldness. Along those same lines is Matt Walsh’s flagrant disregard for human life as he scolds his cameramen (specifically Jeremy Sumpter) for not risking their lives enough. Enter the tired cliche of an auteur holding his art above people’s safety, Sarah Wayne Callies’ motherly opposition, and obvious doom. Mix in two utterly moronic yokel types (Jon Reep and Kyle Davis) actually trying to get stuck in a tornado so their YouTube fame can skyrocket, numerous cityfolk such as “Dumb Jock #2,” and a storm chaser named Lucas (Lee Whittaker) who’s ignored on a grosser scale than T-Dog from The Walking Dead, and you get the perfect storm of abysmal character work – destroying any shreds of credibility in its path.
Into The Storm is such an unfortunate film because certain moments really bring an engrossing horror bite, coupled with spectacular visual design and a few moments of proper “found footage” usage that had me clenching the armrests on my theater chair. One beautifully rendered cyclone finds itself sucking up ongoing flames to form the before mentioned “Flamenado,” a whirling funnel bursting from the underworld, and a specific death scene involving said monstrosity marks one of the most brutal, unflinching character exits in recent disaster memory. Engulfed in flames and spinning like a rag doll, cameras catch his corpse being sucked higher and higher into the air until inevitably disappearing into the heavens – with the implication of coming crashing down moments later.
Steven Quale definitely calls upon some of that Final Destination experience he picked up, but he also manages to capture a huge scope once the storm starts reaching gargantuan proportions. The final scene of Into The Storm places us inside the largest tornado known to man, contrasting between an early onslaught of ferocity, a calming moment experiencing the storm’s eye, and then a final, even more tumultuous kicking of tailwinds. Between causing massive architectural destruction and capturing another landscaping shot of the bright, sunny skyline existing above a dark, deadly storm, Quale finds a symphonic balance in the film’s final act, exposing a massive strength that only briefly shines through during the preceding hour and twenty minutes or so. With proper care, Into The Storm could have been the Twister of our generation – not a SyFy Original on steroids.
Last but not least, there’s an unforgivable amount of “found footage” lunacy that learns nothing from the mistakes of equally unintelligible predecessors. Embracing a mentality where every moment has to be recorded, so many scenes beg for more manpower, yet there’s always someone holding a camera. A child’s life is in danger, with his father desperately struggling to shift around massive hunks of stone, yet a perfectly able-bodied character feels it necessary to become a dumbstruck videographer instead of active participant. Characters capture the unnecessary, ignore their own safety, and make trouble for themselves always while holding a camera (GoPro/Handheld), falling into a tired arc where we want to scream “STOP RECORDING AND JUST RUN!”
Into The Storm is one of those Category 5 catastrophes that news stations report on, warning of an impending apocalypse, but just as we brace ourselves for a glimpse at nature’s ugly side, all the hype dissipates into nothing but a few showers and maybe a thunder cloud – never living up to initial anticipations. Steven Quale tragically fails to translate any bits of emotionally-charged scripting while telling the story of Silverton’s fight against nature, and we’re left with nothing but distant memories of a steel plated, storm-chasing tank, its suicidal driver, a few flashes of gargantuan tornadoes, a cheeky flying cow cameo and one sad character’s red-hot death, but all that’s erased by an out-of-place montage about rebuilding, forgiving, and moving on – because that’s the American way.
Into The Storm wastes moments of catastrophic tension by underdeveloping every single aspect of this found-footage disasterpiece, as if we're watching a SyFy movie made with a bit bigger of a budget.