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Non-Review Review: Into the Storm

Into the Storm is at least up front about its intentions.

It is a surprisingly pragmatic natural disaster film, one that moves with almost ruthless efficiency. Quite like the eponymous storm front, it goes where it wants to go, with little consideration for minor details like character development or intricate plotting. Into the Storm is a movie that knows what it wants to be and what it wants to be. There’s a strange utility to the world of Into the Storm.

Gimme shelter...

Gimme shelter…

In this world, used car lots exist purely to provide material for hurricanes to toss through the air; abandoned mills with all sorts of dangerous chemicals exist purely to put young members of the cast in peril; youtube-obsessed hicks exist solely as comic relief to be be shuffled out of the film before the stakes get well and truly raised. It’s a film that believes that twisters are fine on their own, but things can always be enhanced by the addition of a fire twister or by combining multiple twisters into a giant twister.

Into the Storm is a film so ruthlessly up front that it puts the Sci Fi (or SyFy) Channel to shame. There’s something almost endearing about that, even the result is far from satisfying.

Who films the filmmakers?

Who films the filmmakers?

There is a germ of a good idea here. Found footage has become a cinematic cliché at this point. While it can serve as an interesting storytelling tool in films like The Bay or The Blair Witch Project or Chronicle, often it seems like a rather cynical attempt to save budget or create intimacy. The assumption is that by seeing the disaster from the perspective of the characters caught up in it, we may come to care for them. Or, at least, the given horror can be presented in a cost-effective manner.

Found footage has been used in all sorts of genres, but it has the strongest association with the horror genre. There are lots of reasons for this, but it’s probably down to the iconic nature of The Blair Witch Project and the fact that found footage has become its own subgenre within the larger horror framework thanks to the success of movies like Paranormal Activity. It is a style that is instantly recognisable, at any rate.

Oh, shoot!

Oh, shoot!

So, while the use of found footage in Into the Storm might feel a bit trite, it does suggest that this is an environmental horror film. This is a half-way genre crossover somewhere between Twister and The Chernobyl Diaries. The film itself makes several nods in this direction. “We have to take care of mother nature,” one teenager suggests. Another pithily responds, “Or else mother nature’s going to take care of us.” If that doesn’t sound like a kick-ass horror film, I don’t know what to tell you.

The film isn’t subtle about the “mother nature’s revenge” thing. We’re told that this is the biggest storm on record, and that the storms have been getting gradually larger over time. Towards the end of the film, one character solemnly mentions that it’s only a matter of time before these storms hit towns like Los Angeles or London. The film shows remarkable restraint in not having the same character dub in the name of the city where the movie is currently showing.

Fire! (Do do do!)

Fire! (Do do do!)

The horror imagery flares up a few times over the course of the film. At one point, the characters find themselves fleeing a twister made of fire, seeking sanctuary in a local church. The sequence plays almost like a reckoning. The obligatory post-script over-dubs a speech with religious overtones about the wonder and brutal power of the storm. However, Into the Storm never quite embraces the potential of this disaster/horror mash-up.

Into the Storm never embraces anything that would get in the way of those impressive special effects sequences. Even the found footage conceit is something to be embraced half-heartedly. The film flick into and out of the found footage mode, ready and willing to alternate between a faux documentary and more conventional disaster film depending on which mode is preferable at any moment in time. It feels rather half-hearted.

It's plane to see that this disaster was not well-managed...

It’s plane to see that this disaster was not well-managed…

Characters seem particularly liable to be sucked into the storm because they have nothing more than flimsy two-dimensional back stories to support them. It’s easy enough to spot the archetypes. There’s a geeky teen crushing on a smart and beautiful girl who needs a favour. There’s a father isolated from his children. There’s the obsessive storm-chaser. There’s the mother trying desperately to get home.

However, these characters never feel like anything more than props to be moved around the screen in service of natural disaster. There’s something to admire in how on-the-nose Into the Storm can be. Not only do our young teenage potential love-birds sneak off to an abandoned mill during a massive hurricane, it happens t be an abandoned mill filled with toxic chemicals and stuff. Similarly, whenever our leads need to be separated or we need an action beat, something can land in the road to move the plot along.

It really hits home...

It really hits home…

The script has moments of self-aware wit. Watching it, it’s hard not believe that some of the movie’s tongue is planted firmly in its own cheek. However, these moments of levity only underscore how shallow the rest of the film is. We have no reason to care for Richard Armitage’s concerned father beyond the fact that he is a concerned father. We have no reason to hope that Sarah Wayne Callies’ mother can get back to her daughter, beyond the general sentiment that it’s nice if families see each other.

Into the Storm is a movie that does exactly what it sets out to do, but with no real energy or enthusiasm. It isn’t interested in hitting any of the necessary plot or character beats with enthusiasm, and it isn’t doing anything interesting with its found footage set-up. Like the storms it portrays, it just sort of is.

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