Into the Storm review

There are number of questions that come to mind whenever one watches a found footage or faux-documentary feature, and when satisfactory answers aren’t forthcoming, these questions begin to poison the film, revealing its artifice and very often making the filmmakers look lazy or incompetent.

Sticking strictly to found footage verisimilitude, as with Willow Creek, or coming up with a smart denouement that explains away apparent cracks in the diegesis, as with The Last Exorcism, can help ensure that the format doesn’t drive a wedge between the film and its audience.

But often, found footage films can leave you screaming ‘Who is filming this?’, ‘That angle makes no sense!’, Who edited this together?’ or any of the many other questions that I found myself asking during Into the Storm.

Even still, these numerous problems wouldn’t have been quite so infuriating or obnoxious if director Steven Quale and screenwriter John Swetnam hadn’t spent more of their film’s running time trying to justify the found footage conceit than on characterisation, theme, or any other ideas that might convince us it’s worth sticking around until the credits roll.

The main characters are introduced as simplistic stereotypes and side characters appear, it seems, simply to hold a camera or be swept up into a tornado. Or sometimes both. When one such expendable meets this fate he does so because he doesn’t want to lose his footage. Footage that is then destroyed in the tornado. Footage that we have been watching. Footage that was edited, had music and had titles placed over it announcing the characters’ names and occupations.

Having Into the Storm‘s characters filming the action around them should add immediacy and make the disaster feel close to home, but it is always distracting and distancing. It’s even the case that the only truly effective, memorable shots are the ones of the tornadoes from above. This, we are told, is possible because of news helicopters.

The visual effects work that has been done to render the tornadoes is really quite remarkable and there is something to be said for seeing them in a wide shot, ripping through buildings, tearing up the ground and flinging vehicles into the air. But brief moments of spectacle don’t make a film.

Pete, as played by Matt Walsh, is perhaps the only character in Into the Storm that comes close to engaging the audience, even while his Captain Ahab subplot is a little worn and, it becomes clear, he can be a pretty terrible human being. Still, Walsh is one of the only actors who invests some life in their character.

Pete, we learn, is struggling to make a documentary film about tornadoes. He’s up against YouTube however, and wondering why would anyone want to see his film when they can watch tornadoes aplenty online. He realises that he needs to make his film stand out somehow.

And so did Quale, because audiences will otherwise just watch some special effects of tornadoes or real storms on YouTube, or perhaps look at some gifs of Into the Storm‘s Firenado on Buzzfeed. Once they’ve done that, they’ll find little reason to waste ninety minutes watching the actual film.

Into the Storm is currently on release in both UK and US cinemas.