It’s been nearly 20 years since the Twister gang deployed “Dorothy” into the path of a monster tornado (and Jo and Bill made out awkwardly in a destroyed farmhouse), and the timing finally seemed right for a follow-up. So who better to pay homage to leagues of intrepid storm chasers than Avatar and Final Destination director Steven Quale?
Despite many critics snobbishly panning it as “idiotic,” “bloated” and “irritating,” Quale’s summer disaster film, Into the Storm, is a gem in its own right, so long as you know what you’re getting into.
The story opens in the small town of Silverton, smack in the middle of Tornado Alley. A group of teens in an SUV argue playfully while filming one another with a handheld camcorder. A burst of light from a snapped electrical wire catches their attention, lighting up the surrounding darkness, and one of the young men aims his camcorder in its direction. One by one, telephone poles begin cracking and we hear the low growl of violently increasing winds. A flash of lightning illuminates a blackened vortex barreling down the road straight towards them. The vehicle is lifted from the pavement and rolled like a Hot Wheels toy, then a crunching noise as the SUV is smashed into the ground and the screen goes black. It’s silent, save for the godless roar of the wind and the eerie wailing of tornado sirens.
Just like that, Quale and his crew manage to snag the audience’s undivided attention in the first few moments of the film—no easy feat. How do you freak out an audience without using monsters, serial killers, or terrifying four-year-old ghost babies (thanks for that Japanese cinema)? Easy: drop them in the path of a monster storm and wait it out. Anyone who has lived in a region of the world where tornadoes are a common occurrence can attest to the horror of its power. (Of course, that doesn’t mean we won’t also whip out the camera and stand on the porch, bracing like Steve Irwin next to a 17-foot croc, and scream, “LOOK AT THAT GREEN SKY! WE’RE IN FOR ONE TONIGHT! BOB, COME AND SEE THIS!”)
Starring a rounded cast that includes Richard Armitage (The Hobbit), Sarah Wayne Callies (The Walking Dead) and comedian Matt Walsh (Veep) as chase team leader Pete, Into the Storm takes viewers on an out-of-control thrill ride into the heart of a murderous force of nature.
The movie splits its time between two main storylines: widower and Silverton High School vice principal Gary Morris (Armitage) and his two sons, Trey and Donnie (Nathan Kress and Max Deacon)—who are busy finalizing the school’s graduation ceremony and filming video messages for a digital time capsule—and a storm-chasing crew on the last leg of their mission, still vying for a once-in-a-lifetime shot from inside a tornado. As the weather worsens, the film crew and the family of three are thrown together, forced to cling to one another (literally and figuratively) in an attempt to survive the monster storm.
With a barrage of mediocre one-liners and sometimes sloppy writing, the film suffers a few obvious pitfalls: fellow student Kaitlyn (Donnie’s longtime crush) had the potential to be great, but fell victim to the cloying “damsel-in-distress syndrome” early on, despite having an overachiever personality and a whip-smart knowledge of current events. Meteorologist Allison Stone’s presence on the chase team seemed to serve little purpose except to quip, “I was wrong…. Oh look, it’s back!” every five minutes, a sorry underuse of Sarah Wayne Callies’ talents. Armitage’s lines were uniquely stale.
The movie’s saving grace was its stunning visual and sound. In one particularly terrifying scene, a smaller funnel touches down near a vehicle fire, sucking up the flames and whipping them around maliciously. The sound mixing on this film was particularly fine-tuned. Instead of simply relying on volume to blow your mind, tiny intricacies differentiate this great disaster film from, say, Sharknado (sorry, Sharknado fans). The sound of a tornado—the grinding bellow of a freight train crossing a field or the pounding of a gigantic waterfall—is one not easily forgotten and Into the Storm perfectly captures that chill-inducing rumble. Even sitting in the theatre, you can practically feel the deep, throbbing vibration in your chest as the tornado approaches.
If you’re expecting a finely tuned look at the human condition or a commentary on the complexities of life, there’s no doubt that you’ll leave this movie disappointed. Clearly, that’s not what Quale intended with his hour-and-a-half homage to the Reed Timmers of the world. But if you go into this with an expectation of being laid out flat with terror and hair-raising visuals, you may just come out of it 1,000% happy with the results.