‘Into the Storm’ and the Critics’ Disaster

Into the Storm may not be a cinematic masterpiece, but it doesn’t quite deserve its low 21% score on Rotten Tomatoes.

This found-footage style disaster film tracks a group of professional storm chasers, two drunken daredevils, and a small town community on the day of their high school graduation. Richard Armitage works in his prime as a Gary, a sullen, but good-hearted widower, father of two boys, and assistant principal at the high school. Matt Walsh and Sarah Wayne Callies head up the storm team in pursuit of a career-making shot from inside a tornado. As the storm worsens, these different groups converge in an effort to reunite Gary’s family and simply stay alive.

Technically speaking, it’s pretty good. The film really tries to drift naturally between documentary team footage, handheld camcorders, security cameras, and news shots. The filmmakers do okay, even if it is still distracting how all these cameras survive hail, submersion in water, and even shoot cinema-resolution in the first place. The biggest, and least-believable CGI shots are included in the trailer, the others effects seemed pretty solid throughout the film.

One reviewer claimed that the “the human stories are given short shrift” in the film. I have not seen the other reputable tornado film Twister (1996), but at least in comparison with Godzilla, this summer’s other major disaster film (73% on Rotten Tomatoes), that idea is completely uncalled for.

The different plot elements and character qualities are arguably stock-grade and simplistic. Gary is a dad who will do anything to make sure his boy is safe. Matt Walsh plays the work-obsessed miser who only cares about getting his career-making shot. Callies’ character Allison adds a motherly touch of shock and moral pondering to the film as this group perseveres on their own missions despite the death and wreckage in the community surrounding them.

The characters discover that they need each other to stay alive. The footage from the boys’ time capsule project makes things slightly cheesy as the film wraps up with a staged “rebuild and appreciate family one day at a time” message. Character drama does take second place to VFX shots pretty frequently, but really, what else do you expect from a summer action flick?

Even with its predictable qualities, the story did leave me on edge at times whether certain lead characters would live or die. There are a few touching scenes where teenagers film their last words, characters sacrifice themselves for one another, and this gruff family of men find ways to admit that they love and appreciate one another.

Despite the film’s clear money-making CGI tactics, characters are ultimately more thematically important than the disaster itself. You can’t say the same thing about Godzilla with its message that humans need to step out of the way and let nature take its course regardless of the collateral damage. Characters in Into the Storm may under-react to death and not reflect the gravity of storms like this, but they fight for one another and give a glimpse of how man should press on in the face of hostile nature. At its best possible stretch, it’s a philosophical musing on the need for community. At its worst, the film is simply a shallow action flick – by no means rare on the big screen. Given that, I really enjoyed it.


Banner Image: “Supercell – Courtney, Oklahoma” (cropped) from Kelly DeLay. Creative Commons License, 2014. 

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