Too often, a fundamental flaw pervades "natural disaster" movies: the focus tends to be on the destruction and chaos rather than the characters. Recent years have shown the physical and emotional devastation such events can cause to neighborhoods and families, so a movie about one of these events is ripe for hard hitting drama, but the characters that could bring that drama forth are usually relegated to supporting characters in relation to the storm, human fodder for its carnage. "Into the Storm" is no different. It tries to force some narrative angles in, but the final product is largely empty. If 2012's "The Impossible" serves as an example of how to explore similar territory well, "Into the Storm" exemplifies its opposite.
The film follows the Titus Team, a crew of documentarians and storm chasers who have been tasked with capturing footage of a tornado. Most important among them is meteorologist Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies) and Pete (Matt Walsh), the latter of whom hopes to capture the first ever footage of the eye of the storm using new technology, including a tank-like vehicle that can stay grounded in winds up to 175 miles per hour. Lucky for them, a storm is brewing and it's going to be a big one. Unluckily for the rest of the town, including the high schoolers attending their graduation ceremony nearby, the storm is growing far beyond what is expected and is certain to destroy their livelihood.
To its credit, "Into the Storm" at least tries to create interesting characters, even if it doesn't know how to construct its narrative around them. An example comes from the relationship between Allison and her daughter hundreds of miles away, whom she talks and Skypes with on the phone. Similar to last year's hit, "Gravity," the mother/daughter angle is forced in to try to manufacture drama out of thin material (though that in no way implies Gravity is a bad movie-just to be clear, it is not), a cheap way to build characterization and trick the audience into caring about the person onscreen. It doesn't work. One scene around the midway point shows Allison clutching to the door of that tank-like car as the winds threaten to pull her into the tornado. The unified feeling of apathy from the audience at my screening couldn't have been more noticeable if we all simultaneously started yawning.
Only one sequence of events carries any dramatic impact. It revolves around Donnie (Max Deacon), son of the high school's Vice Principal, Gary (Richard Armitage). He's supposed to be filming the graduation ceremony, but passes the responsibility off to his younger brother so he can schmooze with his crush, Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam Carey), a character who is largely forgotten when this sequence ends.
While at an abandoned factory, the storm hits and they find themselves trapped in a hole under rubble with no way to get out and water quickly culminating around them. With the very real possibility of death approaching, the two take the time to record their final testaments and it hits hard. The actors pull the scene off and the sense of hopelessness is crushing. Unfortunately, these moments are offset shortly after by contrived screenplay happenstances that I won't delve into in case somebody actually wants to see this, but the primary thing to take away is that even when "Into the Storm" has something good going, it fails to realize it and effectively ruins it.
There are a handful of neat moments as the storm rages on, including a nice nod to the film all films of this ilk will be compared to, 1996's "Twister," but these moments are fleeting and don't do enough to make up for the movie's glaring deficiencies. These are stupid characters making stupid decisions while poorly delivering badly written dialogue. The storm is all there is, unless you count the bumbling redneck comic relief characters that repeatedly appear parallel to the professionals, the worst comic relief duo to pop up in a film since the paranormal investigators in "Insidious."
Even worse, "Into the Storm" ends on a cheesy, message heavy and, more offensively, slightly happy note-sure, communities were destroyed and thousands of people just died, but hey, we recognize that person's face from the beginning of the film! "Into the Storm" is a mess and with so many great films to see in theaters right now, why waste your time with it?