By Preston Wilder
What a difference 18 years makes. Back in 1996, Twister featured people so insane that they actually chose to get close, dangerously close, to tornadoes – but at least those people were scientists, risking life and limb for our collective betterment. The heroes of Into the Storm, on the other hand, are filmmakers, tornado hunters like the ones on Discovery Channel, going in close for our collective entertainment. And it’s not just the pros, either. We open on a quartet of dumb high-school kids, caught in the path of an approaching tornado. One of the kids has a camera, and films the devastation as the twister blows out street lamps, one by one, coming towards them like a slavering monster – but he can’t stop filming as the tornado gets closer … and closer … and then it’s too late.
Everyone’s making movies in Into the Storm. Moody teen Donnie and his brother Trey are filming the high-school graduation and making a “time capsule montage” to be viewed in 25 years, asking everyone to send a message to their future self. Donnie’s crush Kaitlyn is working on a video project about the old paper mill on the outskirts of town. A couple of local rednecks are shooting Jackass-type vids – “Amateur Daredevil, 302 YouTube hits” reads the introductory caption – then bedeck their truck with “Twista Hunterz” and set out to go viral. And of course we have the actual twister-hunters, led by hard-headed Pete who’s obsessed with capturing the eye of the cyclone, “a sight nobody but God has witnessed”.
All this is important, or at least deliberate. Any film that begins with the line “You’d better not be filming us” has an obvious subject, viz. the modern mania for recording everything. Don’t get me wrong: Into the Storm is pure pulp, a chance to see little-known actors battle special effects, but it’s nice to know that it’s trying to say something. There’s a mordant comedy at work when Donnie and Kaitlyn are trapped under the rubble at the hurricane-flattened mill, on their way to a watery grave as their shelter slowly gets flooded – and take the opportunity to shoot a little farewell video, saying goodbye to Mum and Dad as the water rises up to their chin. “Live every day as if it were your last,” Donnie advises his video audience with a straight face. “Because one day it will be.”
The tornadoes are a kind of wake-up call, making everyone focus on living through the experience instead of recording it (and focus on the here-and-now instead of thinking about 25 years later). The tornadoes are also magnificent, whip-like white funnels with a brown sludgy maelstrom – the swirling remnants of trees and houses – at their base. They travel in packs (“Two … three … four … shit, they’re everywhere!”), super-tornadoes caused by climate change, homicidal freaks like the mutant sharks in Deep Blue Sea. One of them slurps a pool of spilled petrol that’s been set alight, going up in a column of fire. They snatch jumbo jets off a runway, floating them surreally through the air.
‘So the special effects are good then?’ shrugs the jaded audience – and yes, I realise this is all expensive fakery done on corporate computers; no actual tornadoes were harmed in the making of this picture. Still, Into the Storm is refreshingly simple, a fun slab of hokum clocking in just shy of 90 minutes – and, with so many cases when simple things are done badly in Hollywood, it seems only right to give credit when simple things are done well, or at least effectively. It’s a bored viewer indeed who won’t feel anything when Gary (the boys’ dad) tries to keep his grip on a car door while also grabbing hold of Amanda (the storm chasers’ token female), both of them lifted clear off the ground and barely able to hang on as 200-mile winds stretch them tight as a clothes-line.
I haven’t named any of the actors, because I didn’t recognise any of them. Most are apparently TV faces (though Richard Armitage, who plays Gary, is also in The Hobbit) – and you may want to deduct a star from that rating if you’ve been tornado’d out by TV shows, though I doubt the likes of Stormchasers have the slight ambivalence you’ll find in Into the Storm. This is a film where the grandeur of Nature is in inverse proportion to the foolishness of humans, blind to danger whether it comes from tornadoes or global warming. The two rednecks put it best, the indestructible spirit of human idiocy, blithely getting themselves in the twister’s path or just hanging out to gawp at the action: “Grab a brew! It’s like a zombie apocalypse out there!”. Ten thousand YouTube hits, easy.
DIRECTED BY Steven Quale
STARRING Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Walsh
US 2014 89 mins