Written by Ankit Ojha
What to Expect
Steven Quale has been a major assisting part of two of James Cameron’s biggest films of the past two decades (Avatar, Titanic). Post his journey of learning the tropes of filmmaking as second unit director, he moved on to bigger things by helming Final Destination 5, which went on to become the second highest grossing film in the franchise and a relatively better film in the franchise next to the first instalment.
With Into the Storm being the second big-ticket film of his career as director, one’s not sure what to expect. For this writer, however, things have been different. Right from frowning excessively at the gimmicky looking teaser to finding a glimmer of hope in the relatively well laid-down trailer, my expectation levels of the film have gone from one side to the other. Before entering the hall, however, I was able to mentally jot down what makes this film an exciting new product on the table.
Found-footage, both as a stylistic element and a gimmick, has worked very well in the past with popular horror films like The Blair Witch Project and experimental monster movies like Cloverfield. I, for one, haven’t been able to appreciate the filmmaking technique so much because of its overuse in horror and it being an easy moneymaking bet, turning the filmmaking lot lazier in terms of scripting, characterisation and engaging narrative. This – as a found footage movie – holds potential promise to being different from the regular ilk of its marriage with the horror genre. Chronicle did it and succeeded, and this could too.
Of course, apart from the usual promise of its filmmaking technique treading newer waters, there’s also the exciting new addition to the disaster movie genre. With some exaggeratedly ambitious topics already covered by Roland Emmerich in the past (The Day After Tomorrow, 2012), this is a relatively modest disaster film, making itself an (unintentional?) echo back to director Jan de Bont’s popular 1996 drama film Twister.
What’s it About?
Now if Twister were an almost performative-type documentary, it would probably be what Into the Storm is now. Storm chasers Pete (Matt Walsh; television’s Veep) and Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies; television’s The Walking Dead) cross paths with a Silverton school vice principal Gary Morris (Richard Armitage; The Hobbit) trying to save his family, and join hands in an attempt to rescue as many humans as possible. Oh and there’s also two buffoons risking death by tornado in an attempt to become YouTube sensations.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Yes, the story is as cliched and boring as it gets. Written by John Swetnam (Step Up: All In), the screenplay has a perfectly linear narrative that just about goes absolutely nowhere in terms of character development and narrative structure. This is a perfect three-act buildup with cardboard cutout characters that are found in almost every formulaic disaster movie – the broken family, the people trying to stop and save the storm, and an occasional weird subplot to lighten the tense mood. Yes, a few people die, and yes, there’s a high chance the audience will know who are going to be ticked off the list of people alive by the end of the story.
The performers are either not directed well or don’t perform well – and that’s a probable cause of the characters not being emotionally connectable to the audience. Likewise, the movie doesn’t follow a singular visual style – it moves around from found-footage to work-print (performative?) documentary to finished documentary to traditional feature-film tropes. This breaks a lot of rules – which is a bold move – but doesn’t achieve visual or emotional consistency and looks technically and stylistically confused.
The cinematography isn’t bad, and the camerawork jumps from one experiment to the other. Each experiment on an individual level is fine, but doesn’t seem to gel well together. All of that doesn’t mater because you’ve got some fantastic VFX shots that are bound to blow your mind and make your jaw drop. For a film this tight in scale. it’s a pleasant surprise the effects are exceptionally well done. Each shot composition makes for thrilling big-screen viewing. There are some snags and a couple of things do tend to pop out in terms of less attention paid, but all those are few and far in between. Some of the most powerful VFX-driven action set pieces come right at the end, leaving us breathless, with dropped jaws and at the edges of our seats. The background score works fine in places, but the presence of a background score weirdly defies the purpose of the filmmaking technique the makers have attempted to use here.
To Perform or Not to Perform
The most jarring portion though – at the risk of repeating myself – may just not be the overly simplified and predictable storyline. It’s the performances – and majorly the performances – that kill the mood. While Armitage has a few select expressions he’s picked from the box to don whenever possible, Sarah Wayne Callies is such a disappointment considering her dynamism through her stint in The Walking Dead. Matt Walsh is definitely the most fun around the film, but his character doesn’t go anywhere and stays where it is. Beating him to it is Nathan Kress (television’s iCarly), who plays Armitage’s younger son Trey. One of the biggest problems with the film is the comedic subplot of the film, which adds up to neither humor, nor substance. The performers supporting this bit – Kyle Davis and Jon Reep – give in a sincere performance, but lose out to a story that doesn’t fit in, and plain simply annoys. Max Deacon as Donnie is passable, and Alycia Debnam-Carey seems to be filling the damsel-in-distress spot that would have been so jarringly empty through the formula otherwise.
Let’s be honest here. This movie isn’t smart like Chronicle (which has a perfect blend of story and justification of rule-breaking in the found-footage technique), doesn’t have a groundbreaking storyline or format, and doesn’t even have characters we can care about, mainly due to terribly faulty performances throughout the film. What it does make up for to a large extent though are its entertaining action set pieces filled with mostly fantastic VFX work through the film’s runtime. Watch out for the breathless climactic set-piece that just doesn’t let go. This one’s a regularly entertaining, breathless film that – if not for the narrative predictability or performative disappointments – had the potential to be so much more than what it is.
Definitely worth a big-screen watch though, if you’re looking for pure, strictly functional popcorn fun.
Star Rating: 2.5 / 5
PS: Watch out for the fire-nado. You’ll know what I’m talking about when you get there.