Into the Storm (★★)

IntotheStormPoster“So bad they’re good” movies carry their own cache of notoriety and acceptance. But it’s not like these movies automatically garner a theatrical release, right? In the wake of Syfy’s success with Sharknado, there’s an automatic assumption that poorly made disaster movies bypass theaters entirely, and yet we have Into the Storm playing right now at your local multiplex. Into the Storm is Sharknado sans sharks; a Syfy feature masquerading as a Hollywood production, released in theaters due to methodology at Warner Brothers not comprehended by the average cinephile.

Into the Storm is the “so bad it’s good” movie of the year with goofy science, a haphazard (vaguely political) message, and actors who truly believe they’re working in something high-brow and doing the best they can. If you gather up a group of friends, and are fortunate to find an empty theater, this is the movie to see. If anything, the folks at Rifftrax need to prep this for future riffing.

The town of Silverton (somewhere in America….where they get tornadoes) is beset by a frenzy of twisters on the same day as the high-school graduation and the arrival of a team of storm chasers.

Where do I begin recounting Into the Storm’s disasters and disastrous moments? The campy quality starts from minute one, when a group of horny high-schoolers are quickly shuffled lose the mortal coil, via tornado, because they needed to capture lightening on their cameras and failed to see the funnel cloud in front of their faces. Their final words are, appropriately, “TORNADO!”

The gimmick, one of several in this film, is how the audience is seeing views “only God sees” by entering the funnel cloud itself. Our establishing shot sets things up nicely, taking us inside the truck with the stupid teens as they’re swirled around to their doom. Later on, “God’s eye-view” is enhanced by going inside the storm…just before a major player ends up meeting terra firma head-on. If anything, I believe screenwriter John Swetnam has seen a tornado and understands the intensity and ensuing destruction they cause. Where else would he get the idea of a flaming funnel cloud? I see Syfy’s next big event!

The actors sufficiently convey the fear of a tornado’s arrival, although for people who’ve seemingly lived in Silverton for years, too many say “What’s that?” in response to tornado warnings or other signs of an impending storm. The assembled cast include Walking Dead star Sarah Wayne Callies (and yes, there is a zombie apocalypse joke directed at her), Richard Armitage, and Matt Walsh. None of these actors are claiming this on their resumes, but they all take the script seriously, even if the audience won’t. You wonder if there weren’t a few giggles during certain line readings. They’re the ones who ground the movie in some semblance of reality and never wink at the camera.

The comparisons to Twister ran fast and furious when the first trailer aired, maybe because funnel clouds aren’t yet a genre of disaster film we get often. Either way, filmmaker Steven Quale must have felt the need to do whatever possible to separate this movie from its grandiose IntotheStormpredecessor. Found footage is not the answer. Quale uses found footage to take us “inside the storm,” the problem is this film has no concept of what “found footage” is used for or what it looks like. Into the Storm tries several different ways to create a reason for filming everything: the aforementioned storm chasers, which makes sense (and if the classy, organized storm chasers aren’t your type there’s a subplot with two drunk hillbillies filming for their YouTube channel as counterbalance), and two teen boys filming a “video time capsule” for their high school graduation. Various perspectives are okay if everyone is dispersed, capturing different elements of the storm, but once everyone comes together in one group there’s no need to have more than one person filming. There’s also moments where characters refuse to put the camera down, human life be damned, and moments of pure insanity where the camera shuts off because we can’t get too much coolness in one movie.

Too often the found footage conceit is abandoned outright, in spite of people still talking about “recording” or “capturing footage.” Callies’ character, Allison, talks to her daughter at one point – because we have to find a way to interject humanity into these cardboard characters – with someone/something filming her. Who is this person? A valid question considering two out of the three people she’s been with are seen behind her! Later on, the movie shows us an unnamed fifth storm chaser, apparently there the whole time but never warranting a name, whose job description is holding the camera in order to keep up the ruse of recording. The worst offense is this just doesn’t look anything like a found footage movie; there’s no grain, no camera movement (not every camera can logically be on a tripod), nothing. I’m all for avoiding shakey cam, but this looks like a movie filmed on a professional movie camera. Eliminating the found footage premise wouldn’t have fixed everything, but I’d have at least bought that the director  didn’t believe the audience was stupid enough to believe it’s found footage.

But who cares how it’s filmed when it’s so laughable! Several characters shout “TORNADO!” as if we’re going to assume this is a movie about earthquakes or something else un-tornadolike, and Silverton is a magical world where cell phones and recording equipment survive massive amounts of water damage. There’s also a weird, vaguely political subtext with the town’s high school principle resembling President Obama, and, of course, he’s the doubter who thinks the tornadoes aren’t that bad. The man drones on during the graduation, even after hailstones and the tornado warning go off! The ending sequence also includes a hammy moment of selfish characters realizing they must live life to the fullest and appreciate family.

You may be “what’s the point of following these tornadoes?” For all this talk of family and trying to find ways to create fleshed-out people, wouldn’t it be obvious to explore what drives storm chasers to risk their lives? Unfortunately, the storm chasers have zero motivation for following these storms. Storm leader, Pete (Walsh) wants to make money, but the rest of the characters aren’t even given that incentive. Hell, the hillbillies dreaming of YouTube hits have a more compelling reason for putting their lives on the line than committed professionals. Allison says she hopes to “stop these tornadoes” before they end up somewhere they’re not supposed to be….like Los Angeles. Yes, this film seemingly talks about tornadoes as if they’re living persons. Much like Twister where Helen Hunt thought tornadoes had a personal vendetta against her. At least the script knows that sounds stupid because the movie ends and the tornadoes live to see another day.

All of this sounds negative, but in the final analysis Into the Storm is hilarious fun. Everything about this film is depicted in a larger-than-life manner, despite hilarious lines and zero depth, and yet it keeps you entertained. I couldn’t stop laughing about the movie and my companions who went with me all said it was worth experiencing. Negativity and making fun of a movie might not be enough reason to plunk down money opening night, but it’s certainly worth getting some friends together for pizza and having a Redbox night.