In my review of “Sharknado 2: The Second One“, I posed the question of what would those films be like if they had a proper effects budget and better production values? The answer, it turns out, is “Into The Storm”.
Dispensing with the gimmick of improbably homicidal marine life (although the tornadoes do pick up some cool things), “Into The Storm” goes straight for the disaster movie playbook as it introduces us to the town of Silverton and gives us various groups of characters to speculate as to when they’ll be blown away or squished. There’s earnest and distant school Vice-Principal Gary Morris (Richard Armitage) and his sons, one of whom goes off with his school crush to film at an abandoned factory full of toxic waste instead of attending the graduation. There’s also a bunch of redneck wannabe Jackass daredevils and a professional team of storm hunters, all chasing the unprecedented storm fronts gathering over this modest midwestern American town.
Sifting through the rubble of the script, it’s clear that there was once a much more complex structure here before it was demolished to make way for a more straightforward set-things-up, knock-them-down approach (with a bizarre slasher film style opening which doesn’t really flow into the rest of the film). There are repeated mentions of the toxic waste and chemicals stored at the abandoned factory but they never come into play during the film. There’s a few remnants which suggest there was going to be more of a romance between Richard Armitage’s character and Sarah Wayne Callies’ storm chasing scientist as well as hints of professional conflict between Vice-Principal Morris and Scott Lawrence’s Obama-like Principal Walker. There are also hints of an excised subplot about how Morris’ family have been affected by the death of his wife but the only real remnant is some unexplained bitterness from older son Donnie (Max Deacon) while younger son Trey (played by “iCarly” actor Nathan Kress) mopes around flicking his fringe like he’s still upset he failed the audition to be Taylor Lautner. Apart from Sarah Wayne Callies and Matt Walsh as Pete the callous and driven leader of the stormchasers everyone else is given little more than a one-note character sheet, the rest of the team being assembled from a tick box list of disaster movie characters so predictable you can pick out who won’t make it almost as soon as they’re introduced.
Favouring spectacle over character isn’t such a crime in a disaster movie as we’re not here for a moving drama of human relationship – we’re here for the ‘splosions and there are plenty of them packed into the lightweight 89 minute running time. Sadly, the inland setting rules out a big budget shark-slinging sequence but fear not, the tornadoes do pick up trees, trucks, jumbo jets (thank goodness there was that handy international airport nearby this small Midwestern town) and, in one memorably grisly scene, fire itself. I have to admit, when I first saw the trailer I scoffed at the idea of fire-nadoes but I can just shut the hell up, because apparently they’re a real thing!
The biggest flaw is this is another Found Footage 2.0 ‘assembled footage’ movies where the characters themselves are doing all the filming. Thanks to the storm chaser’s multiple cameras, the bumpkin stuntmen’s GoPro and the incredibly convenient school project to film a video time capsule that very day, we’re treated to a remarkably well shot ‘amateur’ documenting of this disaster (although there are three or four shots where it’s impossible not to ask ‘okay, so who is shooting this?’) which suffers badly from ‘surely you’d drop the damn camera down and run’ syndrome.
Deprived of any depth of human interest, it’s hard to escape the fact “Into The Storm” is little more than a shameless remake of “Twister” which, thanks to advances in effects technology, manages to put a lot more spectacular disaster porn on the screen. Without characters you’re invested in, though, it’s hard to care all that much.