[ Director: Steven Quale; Screenwriter: John Swetnam; Starring: Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Walsh, Max Deacon, Nathan Kress, Alicia Debnam Carey, Arlen Escarpeta; Running time: 89 minutes; Certification: 12A ]
Fresh from prancing around and battling dragons as a hobbit in Peter Jackson’s second trilogy in Middle Earth, Richard Armitage has ever so quickly found himself right in the middle of another storm. And not just any storm, as Sarah Wayne Callies’ expert storm analyst tells us, but “the biggest storm that has ever been.” Indeed, it is a big storm, and it doesn’t take long for the film to make sure we know just how lethal it’s going to be as we open to a group of high-schoolers filming themselves just before their car gets whacked by a huge tornado in an impressively loud and brutal introduction that quickly dismisses any preconceptions we may have had about this thing being perhaps a tame or unspectacular experience, and promises things to come.
There’s certainly pleasure to be had throughout Steven Quale’s film, whose previous credits consist of Final Destination 5 and second unit direction on Avatar, but it generally only comes during the stormy sequences, which are unquestionably impressive. Quale, playing to his film’s title, really does place us right into the middle of the storm with eardrum-perforating, gut-rumbling, bowl-loosening roars of thunder, lashes of rain and cracks of lightening; when we’re with the characters at the foot of a tornado, we feel as scared as them because it’s just so immersive. The problem is that as soon as the winds die down, in a way not dissimilar to Pompeii’s volcano which kept stopping to allow characters to talk to each other, the melodramatic storytelling and ill-conceived tone leads everything to wobble and teeter, trying to hold on just long enough for the next tornado to pass by and re-grasp the audience’s attention.
The jokey tone is fine on the face of it, but becomes something of a problem when the storm draws closer and we realise how serious the film is actually trying to be. The two things just don’t marry. That, coupled with a slightly contrived script and rather clichéd characters who, despite good performances, are just so predictable and offer no hint of ambiguity, leads the whole thing to feel strangely televisual. It’s odd considering the storm sequences practically demand a cinema presentation, but it’s easy to see this thing being enjoyed more on Channel 4 one Sunday afternoon than in a cinema full of expectant eyes.
As ever, there’s also no real reason for the film to be shot as found footage, other than because of current trends. The fact that it every so often cuts back to “regular” style shooting when it just can’t stretch the bounds of believability to have the characters filming themselves, proves there isn’t any reason for it to be there. Sure, it could be argued that it gives us more of a first-hand experience at the foot of the storm, but even when we’re not supposed to be looking through a character’s lens, Quale shoots everything in the same way, as if someone was documenting it. Why not just do that the whole time?
Yet ultimately Into The Storm lands in just about the right place in terms of entertainment. There’s plenty of unintentional silliness, and if you can get past some of the more bizarre moments, like a character tying a bandage around a girl’s leg and her asking, with amazement, “Where did you learn to do that?” (Really? Where did he learn to tie a knot?), or five of the characters getting on an otherwise empty bus and high-tailing it away from the storm while people are still flooding out of the building, it is something of a thrill ride. Whether it can challenge the lasting impact of the best disaster movies remains to be seen, but there’s at least enough here to give it a chance.