Found footage is a blight upon cinema. As I’ve said before, it’s a constrictive style that is inherently uncinematic. When we think of something as cinematic, thoughts of John Ford’s vistas of Monument Valley or Greg Toland’s shadowy cinematography from Citizen Kane come to mind. It’s hard to think of a jackass with a handheld camera shaking around as something that screams cinema. Now it seems that most of the found footage films are just half-assed remakes of better films. Devil’s Due was a found footage Rosemary’s Baby, for example. Into the Storm, which opens this Friday, is the found footage version of Twister.
On the day of the local high school graduation, the residents of Silverton, Oklahoma have no idea that a massive tornado storm is headed their way. The vice principal of the high school, Gary (Richard Armitage), is a widower raising his two kids, Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress). For some reason, Gary has Donnie and Trey recording a video time capsule. Meanwhile, a team of storm chasers are attempting to capture footage for a documentary. With his armored storm chasing vehicle, the Titus, Pete (Matt Walsh) is a desperate storm chaser. Tensions with Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies) and other members of his crew, Daryl (Arlen Escarpeta) and Jacob (Jeremy Sumpter), are rising as they bicker over the right path to the storm. At the high school, Donnie ditches his duties as videographer of the graduation in order to assist his crush, Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam-Carey), work on a video project of her own. The storm hits the high school and Gary ends up teaming with the storm chasers in order to find Donnie.
If not for the found footage angle, Into the Storm might have had a chance to be just stupid fun. As is the case with found footage films, the set up takes so long because it has to explain how and why everything is being filmed. It’s a method that invites questioning of logic because its intended goal is visceral realism. Watching a character die because they have to “get the footage” does nothing but make you openly root for the character’s death. If you’re standing next to a fire tornado and are more concerned with saving a recording than your own life, you’re pretty much asking for a grisly demise. Had the film been conventional with brief glimpses into the perspective of people recording it’d be far more interesting. As it is, two people trapped under rubble and deciding to keep the camera rolling is just the kind of idiotic behavior that one should expect from characters in a found footage movie.
Steven Quale has worked as a second unit director for James Cameron on Titanic and Avatar. As a director he did the gleefully absurd Final Destination 5. With Into the Storm, Quale has made a film that lacks any originality or artistry. The script by John Swetnam, whose Step Up All In also opens this weekend, populates the film with these incredibly bland archetypes that wastes some of the finer members of the cast. With Matt Walsh, a versatile and likeable comedic actor, as an egotistical storm chaser, the film fails to exploit his talents to make the film dumb fun instead of just dumb. Basically reprising her role from The Walking Dead, Sarah Wayne Callies offers nothing much new or of interest. It’s like she’s been forced to be in meandering works with great effects and no real narrative momentum. Richard Armitage, as the father who is at first stern and then learns understanding (how original), has some of the worst line deliveries in film full of horrid line deliveries.
There’s a kernel of stupid fun hidden under all the shaky cam nonsense of Into the Storm. The film attempts light moments of comic relief, but they never really work. When the film is trying to be serious it winds up being rather comical (I laughed more than Sex Tape). But the found footage angle is so tired and frustrating that it buries what minor charms the film has with an illogical mess. The film even ditches the found footage angle at random only to return to it seconds later. It does this early and often. Into the Storm is as loud as it is dumb. That’s really loud and really dumb. A Twister for nincompoops.