Into the Storm was not a movie that I had high hopes for. After all, it’s a disaster movie, and disaster movies generally don’t have the best track record when it comes to story lines or characters. Special effects are typically the main reason that folks go. Look, you can see the White House get blown up! Or there goes a whole fleet of 747s! Or look at that! The tornado is on fire! Recently, disaster films have also had a tendency to be overly preachy and even dull.
However, I actually left the theater surprisingly pleased. Overall, I found it to be an enjoyable popcorn flick that I would gladly watch again and probably would add to my movie collection. But let’s get into the film.
Premises You Must Accept if You’re Going to Enjoy This Movie
Okay, every disaster film has at least one or two of these. But you need to be able to accept these premises if you’re going to enjoy it.
1) Some people will act incredibly stupid and ignore commonsense.
2) Everyone looks really quite fantastic after having been through a massive series of natural disasters. Seriously. Some of the survivors get a little bloodied up. Hair gets wet. Mud streaks the clothing. But everyone looked really quite good all the way through. Having been through storms involving a tornado, I can tell you I looked about a thousand times worse, and the tornado itself didn’t even touch down anywhere near me.
3) People and their vehicles will get far closer to tornados than is humanly possible without getting sucked in unless it’s required by the plot.
4) Multiple tornadoes, including an F5, all descend upon the same poor area.
5) Deaths are entirely at the film’s whim. People who shouldn’t be alive sometimes make it through what must otherwise be a miraculous event whereas others were obviously wearing red shirts.
Fusion of Regular Footage and Found Footage
Most of the time, I don’t enjoy found footage films. The shaky cameras and wooden dialogue tend to annoy me even though they’re supposed to mimic reality. In this case, it didn’t bother me as much. The film itself is a fusion of the traditional narrative style married to the found footage as Donnie and Trey, two brothers, are putting together interviews for the high school graduation and the time capsule. The other found footage comes from a group of storm chasers who are hoping to not only track down a tornado but anchor down and enter into the tornado itself. Security cameras also help to fill in the blanks, but the story itself includes regular film shots so that we can actually see what’s going on.
The found footage in this case gives it a rawer feel without making it feel entirely home cooked or nauseating. It also gives the whole piece more of the feel of walking into people’s lives rather than the film being based around them.
For me, one of the most important things in any story is the characters. In a number of reviews, folks have described them as wooden or forgettable. For whatever reason, I actually liked the characters. Will they stand the test of time and be some of the most beloved upon whom I fondly dwell? No. But I enjoyed them more than I enjoyed the characters in Twister, 2012, and other disaster films. In some cases, yes, the dialogue was quite wooden, and it just didn’t sound natural for the characters to even be having those conversations. One conversation that takes place in a church feels particularly stilted and obligatory (though there’s some interesting symbolism in the survivors fleeing into a church when a spiraling fire tornado attacks; that particular tornado struck me as a horrifying representation of a possibility for hell).
The weaknesses in the characters and in the story itself can generally be traced back to the screenwriting. At times, it felt as if the story and dialogue just needed to go through the editing process a few more times to really polish it up.
In general though, the characters felt believable enough to me. Donnie is somewhat shy and awkward, uncertain how to pursue his love interest, Kaitlyn. Kaitlyn suffers the most from no character development. She is clearly just there to serve the purpose of getting Donnie to a particular place and provide an emotional scene. Yet Alycia Carey who played her did not do a bad job with the character. All of the actors actually did quite well with what they were given to work with, and in some cases, that wasn’t much. There’s one scene in particular between Donnie and Kaitlyn when they think they’re nearing their end that is particularly good. The emotion conveyed through the eyes is quite believable. Donnie’s message to his father and brother particularly so.
Trey has gained a fair amount of criticism as well. But I actually liked his character quite a bit. He reminds me of a number of young boys I’ve met. A little on the snarky smart aleck side with his own agenda and yet still that little bit of sweetness. Granted, I might have been grinning because I kept thinking of other students I know who are like him. Plus the kid always had a knife on him, despite his father forbidding it. And it works well for an ongoing joke as well as a resolution to some of the problems.
The storm chasers aren’t enormously developed. In fact, they are probably the most clichéd of the characters with the exception of Allison. Peter is essentially a Captain Ahab out to get his white whale, the tornado. And the others are there to serve as cameramen and tornado fodder.
Allison, played by Sarah Wayne Callies, does a nice job playing the research analyst who has had to give up time with her five year old daughter to work. She isn’t annoying, she doesn’t have a chip on her shoulder, and she has her work cut out for her. She carries herself with a quiet weariness that makes it feel as if she is a person who just happened to get caught in this documentary.
Another character who feels like he just happened to get caught in the middle of his regular life for the documentary is Gary, Donnie and Trey’s father. He’s played by Richard Armitage whom you’ve probably seen in The Hobbit. In the beginning, Gary really doesn’t have much time to participate because he is busy preparing for the graduation. The emotional moments and development come later, and the character is odd in that he seems to possess skills that aren’t really explained. In fairness, the film doesn’t do much to establish any characters’ abilities with the exception of Donnie and Trey’s filming talents and the storm chasers’ abilities to track storms. Some of the stoicness involved with Gary just strikes me as the character’s personality rather than bad acting or even bad writing necessarily. Though I will address some of the odder points in a special section with my own particular resolution.
And last but not least….let’s talk about the rednecks. Oh yes. They’ve received some fantastic outrage and criticism for being so 2D. But…um…I can’t be offended because…yeah…I know guys like this. The rednecks definitely made me smile a bit. Particularly their end. Sure, it’s cheesy. But I thoroughly enjoyed it. Sometimes the reason that there are stereotypes is because those stereotypes are true.
Not necessarily something you should aspire to, but if you’ve lived in this area, I’m sure you have met one or two people who fit into that redneck category.
For me, the characters in this movie were far and above more likeable and connectable than in Godzilla or Transformers 4: Age of Extinction or the other disaster films. In one scene involving a near trapped drowning, I knew there was no way that they were going to let those characters die. But it still got me on the edge of my seat as did the points when the tornado chased them. (Sometimes I did wonder whether the tornado was hunting them. I could swear these disasters get a scent of our main characters and then decide they want to finish them off, whatever the cost.)
This film relies heavily on clichés. In fact, I was able to successfully predict just about everything, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment. Some of the clichés such as the black friend who vanishes as soon as the white friend he is supporting dies bothered me more than others. Cliches such as the last minute rescue and the overly strict dad with free spirited boys actually work for the story.
But more than that, the writers didn’t force some of the other clichés on there. Spoiler alert here, but I fully expected them to shoehorn in a romance between Gary and Allison. It was perfectly set up for that. Single father with two sons meets single mother with adorable little girl. How could it not turn out that way? In most other films, it would have. But not here. While there’s certainly chemistry between Allison and Gary for the limited time when that’s a possibility, nothing happens except for that connection. They then move on. It’s certainly a possibility that something might happen between them later, but it’s not rubbed in your face.
At the end of the day, this film wants to be a happy disaster film. It ends on a fairly high note with interviews being redone for the time capsule. Probably unrealistic given what they all endured, but still serving to remind the viewer to live each day like it might be your last because one day it will be. So cheesy at points, yes. Hokey at others, absolutely. Enjoyable overall, most definitely.
My Brilliant Theory About Why the Vice Principal Could Be The Way He Is
All right. Gary, the vice principal and one of the main characters in the movie, is a rather intriguing character. It’s not that he’s unbelievable. Such a character could certainly exist, but particular circumstances would need to exist to give rise to that character. In addition to being in excellent condition for a single father of two boys while also serving as a vice principal, he never freaks out and he always knows what to do. (In fact, in one scene, I could swear he was about to punch the tornado rather than let it drag off an innocent victim.)
In all fairness, not much is revealed about Gary’s background or his past or why he is the way that he is. All that we know for certain is that his wife died and he is raising his two sons alone. However, I have a theory. See, most of the time, when folks are this calm, they have been through exceptionally stressful circumstances before and perhaps even received training.
Now Richard Armitage played another character known as Lucas North in MI-5 or Spooks.
At the conclusion of Season 9, Lucas goes rogue and appears to commit suicide. Yet clearly, he did not.
He either fell through an anomaly (ala Primeval) or the Doctor (Doctor Who) picked him up and gave him a lift to small town Oklahoma
where he married a nurse and adopted her two sons. His skills as a top notch MI-5 agent assisted in his getting as far as vice principal and later on helped him handle the myriad of emergencies that Into the Storm dragged up. It also explains the British accent that keeps fighting to get out of the American accent all the way through. And the fact is that Richard Armitage, while a very talented actor, just does better speaking normally. Some accents are easier to mimic than others, and an Oklahoma accent certainly isn’t one of them.
I really enjoyed this film. It certainly has its weaknesses, but it also offered a fun ride.
It ended just when it needed to end, clocking in at just under an hour and a half. It’s nothing enormous and grand. It’s just a fun story that’s intended to entertain. And maybe convince you that tornadoes are dangerous. Just in case, you know, you had any doubts.