18 August 2014

INTO THE STORM- Review

Here's something that the trailers for Into The Storm aren't bothering to highlight- it's a found footage film, in the vein of Cloverfield and countless horror movies since The Blair Witch Project. That usually means we're in for a cheap and highly profitable venture for the studio, but this is also a big-budget special effects film. As the more savvy of you might have gleaned by now, that means when it came to the script, they literally spared some expense.

The action takes place in the American town of Silverton, as high school students anxiously prepare for graduation. Video club president Donnie is tasked with filming the proceedings by his vice principal father Gary when a tremendous tornado levels parts of the town. Gary and his other son Trey are separated from Donnie, who finds himself trapped and in terrible danger. Teaming up with a group of high-tech storm chasers who are shooting a documentary about the superstorm, the family struggle to reunite and survive the mildly apocalyptic weather.

You get a taste of what you're in for from Into The Storm in the film's cold open, which looks for all the world like the beginning of a slasher movie. You half expect the adult characters to impose a curfew to save their kids from "that twister" that's after their youngsters. Some have enjoyed this film on the basis that it embraces its own stupidity, but it's plain to see from the straight-faced, mirthless delivery that they were even clueless about not having a clue.

What this is, in essence, is another found footage film in which cameramen are ample substitutes for characters, in this case because director Steven Quale is clearly more interested in the special effects. There's the run-up to the initial salvo of bad weather, in which the school principal refuses Gary's suggestions of postponing the open-air graduation ceremony in the face of what will, at the very best, be miserable weather. Once the storm hits, if they're not holding a camera or exacerbating the conflict unbelievably, they're just bodies to feed the carnage.

Admittedly, the special effects are very impressive, crafting a more effective impression of the weather as an old-timey movie monster than I can remember seeing for a long time. The difficulty lies in the fact that you don't really care for many of the characters. Richard Armitage actually puts in a terrific non-Thorin turn as Gary, a character who is constantly making sure everyone is alright and seemingly competing for Teacher Of The Year even before catastrophic storms fall upon his students. He reaches such a Superman-style level of competence that you're never really afraid for his safety, but Armitage's performance is about the only thing to latch onto in a film that huffs and puffs so vehemently.

There are other highlights, especially involving Matt Walsh's James Cameron-esque documentarian, (Quale was a protege of the famously tempestuous Cameron) but the rest of the cast are utterly lumpen. I'd like to blame typecasting for the fact that Sarah Wayne Callies seems to have been playing the exact same character since Prison Break, through The Walking Dead and into this movie, but that wouldn't be the only other thing to blame for the rubbish performances. John Swetnam's script only has a nominal story to keep the special effects going, with far less concern for the characters/cameramen. Going to such lengths to have the characters keep filming, it's a film that still drops in the huge aerial money shots seen in the trailers, apparently just to placate an audience who are by that point bored with such a soggy narrative.

Into The Storm is little more than an effects reel, interminably drawn out to what should be a breezy 90 minutes. As a purely cinematic experience, the effects might make it worth the trip, but there's no reason why it shouldn't work just as well as a test disc for your new Blu-ray player somewhere down the line. The slugline on certain reviews of the film is "Twister on steroids", referring back to the 1996 disaster movie. There's much to agree with in that, given how this is pumped up with air and water and it's less than agreeable to be around. To borrow from Fight Club, the more apt summary might be "Twister with bitch tits."

Into The Storm is showing in cinemas nationwide from Wednesday.
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I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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