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‘Into the Storm’ is a pale shadow of better films

‘Into the Storm’ is a pale shadow of better films

IntoTheStorm_posterInto The Storm
Written by John Swetnam
Directed by Steven Quale
USA, 2014

The tornado-chasing thriller Into The Storm is a film which simultaneously has no reason to exist (because “first-person storm-chaser” is one of the most popular genres on YouTube) and every reason to exist (because the aforementioned YouTube videos are typically amateurish and ugly). Accordingly, the film is plagued with the problems of not knowing sort of movie it wants to be, nor what sort of message it hopes to deliver. It’s every bit the same sort of mess that a real-life tornado leaves in its path.

Nominally, director Steven Quale is producing the same story as the 1996 Jan de Bont film Twister, which came from the same studio as Into the Storm (Warner Brothers). A group of storm chasers led by Matt Walsh and Sarah Wayne Callies head to a small Oklahoma town where an epic outbreak of tornadoes is supposed to occur over the course of a single day. But since found-footage horror movies are a thing now, Into the Storm is presented as a faux-documentary collection of footage from Walsh, his team, and a number of victims of the twisters’ attacks.

Thus, if anyone wanted to make the argument that the YouTube generation has dumbed down the American cultural discourse, Into the Storm would unintentionally be exhibit A in their argument. Where the heroes of Twister were looking to make scientific history, all that anyone in this film seems to care about is just getting video of the storms – in just under twenty years, the cinematic pursuit of tornadoes has changed from a scientific effort to a media event. The tornadoes are presented as unknowable, unstoppable forces of nature, and it’s entirely unclear what Callies’ character (supposedly a meteorologist) hopes to study about them, as she collects not one datum in the entire picture.

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Now, just to be clear: Twister was no artistic juggernaut. Its screenplay was as full of cliche as Into the Storm’s, which is to say, full to the brim. But Twister assembled a peerless cast of character actors (including a young Philip Seymour Hoffman) to do the thing that Howard Hawks believed moviegoers like best: play characters who were highly skilled at their jobs. By contrast, Into the Storm assembles a cast of unknowns whose characters are constantly accusing each other of selfishness and incompetence, and who seem to survive the tornado strikes only through sheer luck. All that separates Walsh’s team from a would-be Darwin Award finalist on YouTube is more high-tech gear.

IntoTheStorm_featuredIt’s not even entirely clear that twenty years’ worth of technological advances have given Into the Storm better special effects than Twister. In both films the practical effects of high wind, pouring rain, and raging hail do far more than any computer to sell the fantasy that the actors are actually caught in the midst of a severe storm. The tornadoes in both films seem abstract and unfamiliar compared to the subjects of those YouTube videos.

Into the Storm does have one powerful moment, when a character tearfully apologizes directly to camera, believing that his death is imminent and that the deaths of others in the movie are his fault. But even that isn’t original: the mother of all current found-footage films, The Blair Witch Project, had a similar soliloquy at almost the same point in its running time about much the same subject. Even at its best, Into the Storm simply cannot become more than a pale shadow of other, more successful pictures.

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-Mark Young