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In the span of just a few hours, the city of Silverton is ravaged by an unprecedented onslaught of the most furious twisters they’ve ever seen. The entire town is at the mercy of the erratic and deadly cyclones, even as storm trackers predict the worst is yet to come. Most people seek shelter, while others run toward the vortex, testing how far a storm chaser will go for that once-in-a-lifetime shot. (From Warner Bros.’ official synopsis)

 Into the Storm
The found-footage aesthetic marches on, swallowing up every mainstream genre in its path. Soon enough, we’ll probably see found-footage romantic comedies, found-footage musicals, and found-footage biopics. Found-footage westerns and historical epics will be pretty hard to justify, given the lack of technology, but I’m sure someone’s working to figure something out. Steven Quale’s Into the Storm isn’t the first found-footage movie to portray large-scale disaster – that would probably be Matt Reeve’s Cloverfield and could include a number of zombie movies – but it’s probably the first to portray the events of a natural disaster in the confines of the format. Quale’s film is easy to dismiss as a knockoff of Jan de Bont’s traditionally-shot Twister (a movie that is, shockingly enough, coming up on its 20th anniversary in a couple of years), but the proliferation of reality shows like the Discovery Channel’s Storm Chasers, not to mention amateur ‘storm chaser’ videos that crop up on YouTube, has created a solid pop-culture precedent for camera crews filming images of dangerous storms. This gives Into the Storm a sense of credibility and allows the filmmakers to avoid the usual found-footage pitfalls, specifically the ‘why are these idiots still filming?’ question.

Quale began his Hollywood career as a production assistant and later as a second-unit director working under James Cameron. His first feature project as solo director was Final Destination 5 (2011), a minor gem that revitalized the Rube Goldberg Death Device series after two lukewarm entries (it’s probably the second best movie in the series, behind Final Destination 2). The Final Destination series’ concept offers a second unit expert an ideal canvass for elaborate set-pieces without the complications of intricate plotting or strong character development. As a medium budget, high-concept, set-piece-heavy disaster movie, Into the Storm is also a good place for a second unit kind of guy. He does his job admirably by adopting the format and tweaking it for the disaster genre. Most of the action scenes lack the impact of a good ‘money shot’ (the guy getting sucked into the fire-nado, aside), but the street-level angles capture the frightening awe of a real-life tornado situation. Quale sometimes breaks with the found-footage gimmick (there are a number of unmotivated shots and even a couple of gods-eye-view establishing shots, but such choices are forgivable, given the ugly aesthetic nature of so many similar movies. He and editor Eric A. Sears do a fine job cutting between storylines, especially as they cull banal character moments on the build-up to the tornado touchdowns. Given how little actually happens in the film, it’s sort of a miracle that it isn’t more tedious.

 Into the Storm
So, the production had an easy concept and locked down a capable (likely cheap) director. Unfortunately, screenwriter John Swetnam (who also wrote Step Up: All In in 2014) doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room and ends up basically recycling the story beats from Twister and a number of B-movies that followed in Twister’s not particularly unique footsteps. It’s hard to completely blame Swetnam, though, because there really aren’t too many places to take a film with this concept and it’s not his fault that storm chaser culture has already had its day in the pop culture sun (unless this was a spec script, then shame on him). His best instinct is to supplement the storm chaser’s plots with a family melodrama subplot and, for comic relief, a sub-subplot about rednecks goofing around in hopes of scoring a YouTube hit. Sadly, every plot-point and line of dialogue is built on a mind-numbing cliché – a widowed dad that doesn’t get along with his sons and develops a relationship with an overworked divorcee, a boy who gets to spend quality time with the girl he likes, and a cutthroat professional that puts everyone in danger and realizes his mistake when it’s already too late. You’ve probably seen it all before and you’ve definitely seen it done better.

 Into the Storm

Video


Into the Storm was shot using a series of digital HD cameras – including Arri Alexa, Red Epic, Canon EOS, and itty bitty GoPros – all to accurately recreate the patchwork look of a storm-chasing operation’s footage. The variation in formats create minor variations in the look, which helps to delineate the different subplots (the storm chasers use the best cameras, the kids use consumer-grade models, and the rednecks use their phones). Some images are smooth and clean, some are super crisp (sometimes generating over-sharpening artefacts), and others are slathered in artefacts like digital grain. Even the roughest, most storm-blown images are swimming in fine textures and complex patterns. On some sad occasions, the image is so clean that the under-detailed/over-motion-blurred digital effects stick out like big ol’ sore thumbs. The colour quality is fine, I guess, but so much of the film is grey and blue that there isn’t much to praise. Some of the fire effects are surely vibrant when set against the rainy backdrops. Contrast levels are at the mercy of light levels. The storm sequences are, of course, overcast, but tend to feature enough dynamic range between blacks, greys, and whites. The daylight scenes, on the other hand, have issues with blooming highlights as cameras move in and out of buildings and vehicles.

 Into the Storm

Audio


The down and dirty qualities of the found-footage genre certainly don’t hinder the impact of this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. Theoretically, the storm chasers brought along many microphones and positioned them in strategic positions in order to capture the best surround sound options – though it’s a bit harder to explain away Brian Tyler’s musical score. My suspension of disbelief aside, there’s little reason to complain about this extremely busy and noisy track. Bad weather is, next to maybe full-scale war, a surround mix’s best friend. Heavy rain, rolling thunder, strong winds, flying debris, and people screaming – they’re all a great way to fill out the 5.1 channels – and tornados add another element with their swirls, giving the sound designers an excuse to have fun with circular directional momentum. The dialogue-heavy sequences are pretty active as well, including some effectively blended ambient noise (a lot of which sits in the center channel) and slightly awkward center-to-stereo vocal performance movement (the transitions are rarely smooth). Tyler’s music does feel out of place, given the format and is tragically generic, but sounds quite warm and isn’t eaten up by the louder sound effects.

 Into the Storm

Extras


  • Into the Storm: Tornado Files (10:50, HD) – A look at the real-life conditions that inspired the filmmakers, including an interview with an actual storm chaser and the process of matching the look of real tornados with digital effects.
  • Titus: The Ultimate Chasing Vehicle (8:20, HD) – A tour of the movie’s custom-built storm chasing vehicle and a comparison to its real-world equivalents.
  • Fake Storms: Real Conditions (5:40, HD) – Concerning the practical, on-set storm simulation effects.
  • Trailers for other WB releases


 Into the Storm

Overall


Into the Storm isn’t a debacle, but there’s little reason to praise something this matter-of-course without any truly outstanding sequences to supplant the banality. Even now, I’m struggling to remember a single image or set piece, besides maybe the brief appearance of a fire-nado. The image quality is sharp, despite the roughened quality of the mix and match camera rigs, the DTS-HD MA soundtrack is lively, but the extras are brief and fluffy.

 Into the Storm
Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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