I’ve lived in Oklahoma, the heart of Tornado Alley, for most of this life. Many childhood evenings were spent huddled under the family staircase while the sirens blared and battery-powered radios were our only connection to the outside world. The fear of tornadoes feeds into the fear of the unknown. At any moment, the rush of air, the sound of a locomotive, could erase your home and family’s existence. That’s the true horror of twisters: not being able to see them coming in the inkiness of night. Cell phones did not exist back in the day, and no one wanted to risk leaving the safe spot for a wall phone. All of this made the isolation of waiting for a storm almost unbearable. Suspense was key during these terrifying spaces of time.
Tornado-related movies have never captured the true experience of people dodging these terrifying storms, but that’s just Hollywood. No one wants to watch a group of people playing Mad Libs with flashlights as they sit in the dark. So instead, we traditionally receive a sh*tload of special effects to present the visual spectacle that audiences crave. Such effects have come a long way since The Wizard of Oz. Today’s disaster movies are cell-phone heavy and often take place in the light of day with cameras whipping everywhere. Most tornado movies are not scary at all because you can see everything, but that’s key to box office success. These are pure exploitation movies that feed upon an audience’s appetite for destruction. It’s a little bit sick, yes.
Into the Storm plays like Sharknado with far less humor and better visual effects. This new film also completely ignores any notion of flying sharks and plays it pretty serious. That could be good or bad, depending on how stoned you are while watching this film. What is interesting and unique to this movie is that viewers will receive a fairly accurate idea of what it’s like to cower in semi-darkness for the big one to hit. That’s more than I expected from this film, and I weigh that victory heavily.
There’s an unspoken formula for disaster movies. Most of us know the drill. Set up a bunch of stock characters with moderately believable histories and professions. Throw in a bit of romantic tension, whether it’s between a bickering married couple or a pair of fresh young lovers. If there are tornadoes involved, a motley crew of storm chasers should drive around and crack one liners. Quickly place your characters into great peril and bring on the destructoporn. That is all. No character development, please.
Director Steven Quayle (Final Destination 5) sticks pretty close to audience expectations with Into the Storm. Character development is unimportant, so the filmmakers didn’t bother with major star power or acting skills beyond uttering clunky exposition (“I waited my whole life for a storm like this” and “This is the biggest storm there has ever been!”). Just think back to Twister: Did anyone actually care about Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton holding on for dear life as a tornado engulfed them? No. We only cared about the flying cow.
Give us the flying cow, goddammit.
This movie doesn’t have a flying cow (in the natural sense — there is an airborne cow-sign), but it contains many insane EF5 twisters (the strongest on record) and a sh*t ton of destruction. Airplanes fly about, cars get tossed everywhere. The tornadoes are the dazzling, dancing stars of the show, as they should be. They’re coming at you from every angle and speed, which is admittedly fun and guilt-inducing at the same time.
Here’s the lowdown: A small Oklahoma town is besieged by ominous funnel clouds of all shapes and sizes. One fateful day brings rope tornadoes, wedge tornadoes, and even a firenado. The soul of the movie is played by a high school vice-principal (Richard Armitage, who does a decently understated Okie accent). It’s graduation day, which means the threat of tornadoes in Oklahoma. (That and prom night get ruined every f—-ing year for at least one real-life Oklahoman town every year.) Gary is not battling with a love interest (although the spectre of his dead ex-wife is in the wind), but his two teenage sons provide enough family drama to suffice. Most of the other human action focuses upon a meteorologist named named Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies) and a group of storm chasers (led by Matt Walsh), some of whom are certainly stoned.
This group of bros, who call themselves Twista Hunterz, are frustrated about their lack of scorage … but not for long. These dudes are not really chasing the storm; they’re chasing the fame that arrives with capturing the storm. Everyone’s a director in this iPhone wielding world, you know? I hesitate to mention that Into the Storm features handheld footage of the action. Dare I say “found footage”? Yeah. I just ruined this movie for you. Don’t worry! That gimmick is a mere framing device and doesn’t really translate because the movie looks too good to be filmed by amateurs. (Don’t ask how all this footage survived the storms.) A heroic sacrifice ties up the story, and audiences will be sated by the beautiful simplicity of nature’s wrath.
At a base level, disaster movies are tasteless and (borderline) shouldn’t exist when so many lives across the globe have been obliterated or, at the very least, uprooted by forces of nature. Into the Storm does allude to the increasing frequency of such storms, but the movie as a whole is not preachy on the nature of climate change. The film is not a disappointment for disaster aficionados although Sharknado may have ruined the genre for everyone. Without sharks flying though the air, do mainstream audiences even care anymore?
Really though, Into the Storm delivers 90 minutes of pure spectacle with a hefty amount of Twister references. Characters do really stupid things and get tossed all over the place by tornadoes. That’s what audiences expect from this movie, and that’s what they get.
Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She can be found at Celebitchy.