Into The Storm

Rating:

IT’S A TWISTER

Main Cast: Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies

Director: Steven Quale

Hollywood sign by Thomas Wolf

Hooray for Hollywood (House Hunting) indeed!

Normy and I have found it!  The perfect home for the next phase of our life.  It’s a lovely old Moorish revival on Sunset Boulevard originally built for Norma Desmond back in the day but the old dear has been off in an asylum at Atascadero for some years and running up some bills for board and care.  Her trustees are willing to unload it cheap and Normy and I fell in love with it from the minute we walked in the door.  I was so thrilled that I had Normy play a mazurka on the piano in the front foyer while I did a stunning little impromptu tap routine up and down the main staircase in celebration.  Fortunately, the film crew from HGTV’s Hooray for Hollywood House Hunting with Vicki Lester was able to catch every single triple time step as I was quite out of breath by the end and would have had very sore ankles had I had to do reshoots.  I must have Lulu Pigg, my tap therapist, help me with my tendon stretches.

Fajer and Hellmann, my attorneys, have been busy at work keeping the footage of my old home, Chateau Maine, from being used for that trashy little reality show, Hollywood Hoarders.  My reputation could be tarnished by an association with such an unpleasant endeavor and I, of all people, know the value of brand, having brought romance and glamor to the women of America for decades now, even if I remain a perpetually youthful 39.  As the new house has a distinct Old California Spanish/Moorish vibe, we’re celebrating by releasing a special Mrs. Norman Maine collector doll, the Senior-ita, complete with little serape, mantilla and armful of the cutest little miniature calla lilies.  Leah, my gal Friday, is busy now cutting the serapes out of a lovely old bedspread I found at a darling little thrift shop on Melrose.

My loyal Koreans are busy packing up years worth of memories at the old house so Normy and I repaired back to the harbor where Captain Drew was waiting for the yacht.  It was a lovely evening so we decided to take the boat out to open water and sail off to Santa Catalina.  The only thing that could make a pleasant evening on deck more lovely would be a film, so we poked through the offerings available on the movie channels and happened across a film from 2014 called Into the Storm that we had totally missed on its first run.  As we both love a good weather disaster picture, we settled in to enjoy ourselves.

Into the Storm is your typical disaster film, this time using Oklahoma tornadoes as Twister did some twenty years before.  In order to distinguish it from other current examples of the genre such as San Andreas or 2012, screenwriter John Swettenham has created a ‘found footage’ concept rather than a typical narrative feature.  Found footage became all the rage after the enormous success of The Blair Witch Project but has largely been confined to horror film and it’s a noble experiment to try and bring it into a different genre.  Unfortunately, not all experiments are successful.

The film centers around the residents of the smallish town of Silverton, Oklahoma on high school graduation day.  As the day proceeds and the weather becomes worse and worse, larger and larger tornadoes touch down wreaking havoc in the lives of the citizens and destruction on property.  In order for the found footage concept to work, we end up following various folk who are running around with cameras.  This includes high school vice principal Gary Fuller (Richard Armitage) who has two teenage sons Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress).  Donnie is conveniently shooting video footage of graduating seniors for a time capsule.  There are also storm chasers Pete (Matt Walsh) and Alison (Sarah Wayne Callies) and their crew including documentary filmmaker Jacob (Jeremy Sumpter).  They’ve invented a sort of armored car which can anchor to the ground and ride out a tornado so it can be filmed from the inside.  Lastly there are a couple of doofuses Donk (Kyle Davis) and Reevis (Jon Reep) who, along with their buddies are trying to make YouTube videos that out jackass Jackass.  Needless to say, all of their lives intersect as tornadoes flatten the town around them.  Who will survive?  The paint by numbers plotting points out the likely sacrificial lambs in the first ten minutes so you’re not likely to be shocked by any of the developments.

While the found footage idea is clever, it lacks in execution.  Half the time, the film seems to forget its underlying concept and opts for traditional narrative techniques and cuts so when it lapses back into found footage style, it’s jarring and takes us right out of the film.  It seems that director Steven Quale wants to make a more conventional film and keeps getting distracted by his screenplay which throws in audience asides and other hokiness so we don’t forget that our characters are also supposed to be, on some level, the film makers.  He is not helped by the screenplay’s complete lack of character development.  Decent actors like Armitage and Walsh are given no real characters to play, just automatons which must execute certain plot functions.  Nobody acts against type, or seems to have much in the way of a real multidimensional relationship so it’s hard for us to really care about their various dangers and predicaments.   And then there’s the idiots played by Davis and Reep who should have been left on the cutting room floor.  I literally cringed every time one of them appeared on screen.

The film does have one thing going for it, an absolutely terrific set of special effects that create the various tornadoes and their paths of destruction.  Production designer David Sandefur creates scene after scene of recognizable small town America both before and after destruction.  Having seen Tuscaloosa shortly after the tornado of 2011, I know a thing or two about what tornado damage really looks like and the film catches both the horror and the humor of smashed houses and scattered belongings.   Unfortunately, the film doesn’t always know when to stop or when less is more.  A sequence where the tornado hits the town airport (which seems to be full of 747s, as most small town airports are want to be) is ludicrous.

I cannot recommend the film other than to admire the special effects which are quite exceptional.  If you’re looking for drama, comedy, or suspense, look elsewhere.

Flying teenagers.  Flying armored car.  Flying school busses.  No flying cow. ATV crashing.  Collapsing school.  Collapsing factory.  Gratuitous near drowning. Handy knife.  Tree hanging. Flaming funnel.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/missvickilester

photo by Thomas Wolf

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