Washout, by Tyler Smith
Steven Quale’s Into The Storm clearly has only one goal: to put us right in the middle of a tornado. He wants to recreate what that must be like. In many ways, he succeeds. The special effects are mostly top notch, and the sound design causes a rumbling, seat-shaking dread that is hard to ignore. However, he desires to go one better. Rather than simply watch characters in the eye of the storm, he wants us to really feel like we’re there. And, in 2014, that can mean only one thing: a found footage movie.
Yes, Into The Storm is the latest in a long line of otherwise-passable films made wholly improbable by employing a filmmaking technique meant to maximize realism. It would seem that this trend has run its course, but apparently not. Invariably, I find myself wondering why studios continue to use this method. I would suggest that it is less expensive, but that is most certainly not the case with this film, whose visual effects are impressive and nearly constant.
And, while I do suppose the found footage nature of the film does seem to put us very directly in the middle of the action, it felt no more pulse-pounding than certain scenes in Twister or The Perfect Storm. So that aspect of the movie is rendered mostly moot, from an action set piece standpoint.
However, the film does bring with it all the other pitfalls that can come with this technique, and it manages to stumble into almost every one of them. When found footage is done right, it is able to mimic reality to such an extent that we have a hard time believing that we’re watching performers acting our a script. As always, The Blair Witch Project was a great example of this. The people on screen didn’t seem like characters, but like your average college student in a stressful situation.
The problem with many found footage films- like Into The Storm– is that they invite us to hold their stories up to the real world and compare, but are often unable to rise beyond the clunky exposition and character archetypes found in most other films. What is merely mundane and predictable in an average film quickly becomes intolerable when we’re asked to believe it is the real world.
The characters are probably where the film fails the hardest. We have the single father, trying so hard to protect his children that he forgets how to relate to them. We’ve got a single mother, distant from her own child due to professional obligations. There’s the cutthroat videographer, hell-bent on getting the shot, no matter whom it endangers. The reckless hillbillies that don’t know what they’re messing with. Yes, all your favorites are here!
The cliches in this film are so dire, that the characters not only fit the standard disaster movie mold, but they are also borrowed from other genres. We have a young, inexperienced camera man questioning the project, only to be reassured that in a mere few weeks, he’ll be on the beach with his beautiful girlfriend. I half-expected him to pull out a picture of her and say, “Take a look at that, fellas. That there’s my best girl. I’m gonna propose to her when I get back.” And, of course, the fate of this character is exactly what you’d expect.
In the end, the film does deliver on what it promises. It was obviously only ever meant to be a special effects extravaganza, and it is. Those scenes are very exciting and scary. But the journey to get there is one that we’ve traveled many times before, and usually in a more interesting way. And the few things that film does try to do to differentiate this story from past films in the same genre only serve to further illustrate just how by-the-numbers and false Into The Storm really is.