IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 89 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
A group of high school students in a car are killed by a tornado as one of their number foolishly holds the others up so he can film it on his phone. The next day, Pete and his group of tornado documentary filmmakers and storm chasers, along with a heavily armoured vehicle nicknamed Titus, track a brewing storm that is headed for the town of Silverton, Oklahoma, where the local high school senior class is preparing for graduation. After arriving in Silverton, Pete is upset to learn that the cell they had been chasing has dissipated, but it soon strengthens, resulting in a hailstorm and tornado. As the team films, the funnel abruptly shifts course and heads for the high school….
Though it doesn’t seem to be regarded as well as it should, the 1996 hit movie Twister is always an enjoyable, easy watch for me with its exciting set pieces, superb action direction [what a shame Jan de Bont tarnished Twister and his action suspense master-class that is Speed with that lame The Haunting remake, that mediocre Tomb Raider sequel and that darned awful Speed sequel before disappearing], special effects that by and large still look decent, nice simple story [the film just didn’t need plot complexity] and likeable characters who are a pleasure to be with as they follow storms around, a foolhardy occupation if ever there was one. Any film made about twisters since Twister would automatically be compared to it, and a quick peruse of the IMDBG message board for Into The Storm reveals that folk seem to be very divided on which film is best. I don’t think it even touches the Bill Paxton/Helen Hunt starrer, and doesn’t help itself by being very similar to it for large stretches. Sadly, even taken on its own, it’s a pretty lame movie that has its good moments but generally wastes its potential. It’s nowhere near as good as the trailer made out.
Said trailer gave the impression of a full Found Footage disaster movie, and that’s the film that I was expecting to see. We haven’t had a film of this subject matter done in this way, and after being so pleasantly surprised by Earth To Echo I was rather looking forward to another good Found Footage film. However, every now and again it seems like director Steven Quale forgets the type of film he’s supposed to be making because some scenes are filmed like conventional movie footage, some of them even with a full-on dramatic score, and the Found Footage angle gets almost forgotten towards the end. Therefore, the act of watching Into The Storm is like watching a film that has been pieced together from two very different versions, at least for a while, until, eventually, it just becomes like your typical modern action movie with the usual tiny edits and ‘shakycam’, resulting in the viewer being unable to see a darn thing some of the time. Perhaps the film was fully intended to be entirely Found Footage until Quale realised it was far easier to do much of it in the ‘normal’ fashion? In any case, it just results in a film that is really irritating to watch and which is hard to settle into.
It’s therefore down to things like the script, the acting and the special effects to save the film, but they don’t really succeed. The opening scene is really intense and suggests a far better picture then the one we get. Four high school friends are hanging out in a car in the dark of night. They hear the clap of thunder, and from afar, they see several transformers blowing out. One of the kids, the one whose camera’s point of view the film, has adopted, gets out to film it on his phone, with his friends yelling at him to get back in the car. Then suddenly, a tornado descends right on top of them, killing all four kids. The fact that we don’t see the tornado actually adds to the fear the scene creates. Unfortunately, the film soon takes a nose dive as we are introduced to our characters. It seems that scritpwriter John Swetnam didn’t bother actually thinking up any of his protagonists because nearly all of them, plus many of the situations they find themselves in, are extremely familiar and from stock. There’s the obsessive storm-chaser who you just know [I hardly count this as a spoiler] will become more human, the slightly less obsessive but still very tough female storm-chaser who really is Helen Hunt’s character from Twister reborn, the teenage boy who has a crush on the pretty girl in his class, the father who has communication issues with his two sons, etc. There’s also two drunken daredevils who seem like a cross between the lads from Jackass and those Bill and Ted wannabees from Cliffhanger but who, in a typical example of the lazy writing on display, don’t even feature in the climactic action. I’m going to tell you now, these immensely irritating and obnoxious idiots don’t get gobbled up by a great big tornado.
We do soon get to see what we’ve all come to see – lots of tornados – proceeded by hail and rain – and the first full sighting of a tornado is quite impressive, sweeping through the countryside knocking down trees. In fact, the first few tornados look pretty convincing – I was ready to say that the effects in Twister remain superior but instead I have to say that they did a good job here, at least for the first half. The most impressive scene is when a tornado catches fire and somebody suffers one of the most unpleasant deaths I’ve seen in quite a while, while these twisters really do cause a hell of a lot of destruction. The sound is also terrific and nicely varied –not all these twisters seem to sound the same. Unfortunately, we do soon get some laughably fake-looking clouds, and it eventually becomes apparent that the film’s ambitions are too high for its budget and a successful realisation of its big climactic scenes. The film also becomes far too much of a copy of Twister for its own good, gets rather ridiculous and ends up rather resembling an Asylum production but without the sense of its own stupidity that their films often have. The climax is obviously supposed to be really thrilling and even uplifting [sorry] but I was too busy trying not to laugh out loud to get really swept up [sorry again] in what was going on. The annoying thing is that you could make a very exciting film about twisters and still keep it believable and even accurate.
There are so many absurdities in this film it’s hard to know where to start. Winds are powerful enough to smash up buildings and pick up massive vehicles yet people run around outside and are never blown away. In fact I only saw two people killed in a film which may have been better off going in a different direction from the very family-friendly Twister [the fire death hints at perhaps the original conception for this film being somewhat different] and being a bit more graphic [did you know that people being swept up by twisters often get their bones broken?]. It would have helped give it a stronger sense of its own identity. Meanwhile, people’s hair is often blown away from storms, two folk trapped inside a destroyed saw mill prefer to weep into a phone rather than try to fight their way out, and, owards the end, the sleepy old town of Silverton is suddenly revealed to have a big and therefore probably international airport with loads and loads of jumbo sets just sitting there so they can be lifted up into the sky [and by now the effects budget was clearly being spread very thin and it just looks like we’re watching a cartoon]. Of course if Into The Storm was a lot of fun and maybe even a bit tongue-in-cheek such things wouldn’t matter so much, but it’s only really enjoyable during some of its effects set pieces, the bits in-between sometimes bordering on being a bit of a chore to watch because of the writing and the infuriatingly inconsistent filming.
The performances actually aren’t too bad, for the most part, though nobody really seems to be trying to rise above the material. Then again, it must be difficult when you have, for instance, one guy wanting to quit for fear of almost dying, than in the next damn scene becoming the most dedicated cameraman on Earth, the only one who won’t retreat. Into The Storm is a great big missed opportunity. Like the carnage left by its twisters, it’s a mess, and you hardly feel people’s lives are in danger despite all the destruction going on around them. I suppose it would have been better with a higher budget and more time spent on the special effects, but no amount of technical wizardly can compensate for shoddy writing or muddled direction, nor is the whole thing is as fun-in-a-bad-movie-way that it should be. I really don’t think they entirely knew what they were trying to make here, nor did they have much faith in it. Saying all this, I was entertained in parts, but I’m probably only saying that because I have a weakness for seeing stuff smashed to smithereens. Don’t bother with this and treat yourself to a double bill of Twister and Sharknado instead.