Into the Storm is another found footage failure - a gimmicky natural disaster film that fails to provide exciting tornado action or impactful human drama.
In Into the Storm, Gary Morris (Richard Armitage) is a single parent of two teenage boys and Vice Principle at the local High School. In preparation for the school's graduation ceremony, Gary's sons, Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress), have been tasked with compiling video interviews and stock town footage for a digital time capsule - until Donnie ditches his filmmaking assignment in favor of helping his crush, Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam Carey), shoot a video scholarship application.
However, when a dangerous storm center forms above the town, disrupting the graduation ceremony, knocking out cell towers, and leaving a trail of devastation in its wake, Donnie and Kaitlyn become trapped under the debris - as the super-storm battering the area continues to grow in strength. In an effort to rescue Donnie, Gary and Trey venture into the tempest, enlisting the help of storm chasers, Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies) and Pete (Matt Walsh), who have traveled to small town Silverton with the hope of documenting and studying the tornado system.
For Into the Storm, director Steven Quale (Final Destination 5) combines found-footage as well as natural disaster and, in theory, presenting super-storm visual spectacle with POV cinematography could have resulted in unique "boots on the ground" perspective - potentially raising the bar set by prior storm chaser movies (read: Twister) with enhanced realism. Unfortunately, Into the Storm fails in those ambitions. Quale routinely struggles to justify the found-footage gimmick, delivering a film that actually highlights the worst aspects of both genres: thin characters, budgeted visual effects, and a laughable implementation of the found-footage premise that, more often than not, distracts rather than enhances the overall experience.
The Into the Storm storyline is straightforward enough - with adequate motivations for most of the characters involved (apart from downright unfunny YouTube Celebrity hopefuls portrayed by Kyle Davis and Jon Reep). Yet, nearly every scene, character, and larger development is staged around the found-footage setup - with nearly every imaginable plot hole explained away by a line of dialogue. It's clear that from its inception, Into the Storm was manufactured around its premise - resulting in an uninspired plot that sacrifices character, believability, and competent drama in favor or cheap laughs, camcorder wielding heroes, and bigger (but not necessarily better) storm spectacle at each turn.
Most of the characters read like stock outlines - with little or no development beyond who they are at the start. Gary is a strict father whose high expectations result in a strained relationship with his sons and while Richard Armitage (The Hobbit) is fine in the role, he's given little to do with it - apart from pretending to be caught in a windstorm for much of the film's runtime. The plot hints at a deeper arc for the character - and provides brief insight into Gary's struggles in raising the two boys alone (following their mother's death). Still, Quale never develops any of the film's emotional threads - cutting Into the Storm down to a barebones found-footage adventure with just enough human drama to ensure audiences aren't simply looking at uninterrupted CG tornado mayhem for a full hour and a half.
Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies) is equally flat. Given that most of the film only takes place over the course of a few hours, the story stops short of forcing Gary and Allison into a fast romance but, after memorable performances in The Walking Dead and Prison Break, Callies is wasted in the role - utilized mostly as a source of meteorological technobabble and a kind-hearted juxtaposition to Matt Walsh's callous storm hunter, Pete. Aside from the tornados, Pete is the least likable character in the film but he's also the most entertaining and, compared to his cohorts, is actually provided with a few challenging moments (for both the actor and the onscreen character).
The teenagers are also sufficient in their respective roles. Trey (Nathan Kress) is charged with comic relief - firing off one-liners while chronicling key events throughout the film, while Donnie (Max Deacon) and Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam Carey) are tasked with reminding viewers of the movie's urgency - as each second brings them closer to death. The young actors do their best with what they've been given but one scene in particular, featuring Donnie and Kaitlyn coming to terms with their fate, exemplifies the key problem with Into the Storm - any attempt at impactful drama is often undermined by clumsy implementation of found-footage video.
Worst of all, in spite of Into the Storm's endeavor at presenting gritty POV natural disaster, even the tornado sequences are underwhelming. Modern cinema is inundated with computer generated pageantry and, subsequently, most viewers have soured on movies that rely entirely on visual effects. Without an intriguing story or worthwhile characters, the film's best visuals, many of which are spoiled in the trailer, fail to carry weight or surprise - making it hard to recommend Quale's latest film (even as brainless escapism).
Shackled by its formulaic premise, Into the Storm is another found footage failure - a gimmicky natural disaster film that fails to provide exciting tornado action or impactful human drama. In the end, the film simply does not bring anything new to the found footage or natural disaster film genres. Moviegoers looking to see mother nature wreak havoc should either revisit past favorites (Earthquake, The Perfect Storm, and Twister, especially) or rent one of SyFy's imitation mockbusters - which, if nothing else, have the sense not to take their flat characters and over-the-top destruction too seriously.
Into the Storm runs 89 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense destruction and peril, and language including some sexual references. Now playing in theaters.
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