At least nobody says “there’s a storm coming”, because every other disaster cliché going is thrown at Into the Storm (2014). There’s the team of storm chasers from Twister (1996), the cack-handed attempt at ‘cli-hi’ moralism from 2004’s The Day After Tomorrow, the split-up family from every disaster movie ever – even that annoying po-faced seriousness that has trended this year with the likes of Pompeii. Where’s the fun gone from these movies? Twister had a scene where cows fly through the air. In Silverton, Oklahoma, the high school kids are all smiles for their end of term graduations. The sun is shining, but something’s in the air that’s making vice-principal Gary (Brit Richard Armitage) worried.
Is it the inclement weather report that he’s reading over breakfast? It takes 35 minutes for our first tornado to hit – more than a third of the film’s running time – by which time the irritating teenagers have got their cameras out to film and narrate the whole thing for posterity. But the film’s not quite found-footage, instead finding a messy in-between, half purporting to be amateur video (well-lit naturally) and half point-of-view, in a style bizarrely reminiscent of Channel 4’s Peep Show. The inconsistency doesn’t make sense, and makes the film sometimes barely watchable – there’s nothing exciting about being in the middle of a storm when you can’t see the storm itself. Still, the plot mainly concerns Gary’s search for his teenage son among the rubble, himself conveniently stuck alone with the girl of his dreams.
Gary’s sons complain that Armitage is emotionally distant. Judging by his vacant reactions to this deadly storm he may be more of a borderline sociopathic, but Armitage’s rugged looks only barely making up for his lack of emotional variety. Director Steven Quale’s only past helming credit is for Final Destination 5 (2011), but there’s less of that fun in Into the Storm. Quale made his name as second unit director to James Cameron, and makes sure the CGI super-tornados (some are on fire, some are two miles wide and so on) are impressive audio-visual assaults. But it’s not the CGI itself, but the reliance on it that’s the issue here, making the whole thing curiously unimaginative, especially strange when this is only a middle-budget ($50m) Hollywood blockbuster. But at least there’s at least a brisk 87 minute runtime, and occasionally feels like you’re on the back-lot ride at Universal Studios. However, when you’re pining for Bill Paxton and the relative emotional realism of Twister, you know you’re in trouble.