Published Aug 08, 2014In the 15 years since the smash release of The Blair Witch Project, the found footage narrative device the film introduced has evolved into a full-fledged genre that's becoming more commonplace every year, making the once innovative approach pretty generic.
More subversively minded filmmakers like Matt Johnson, who simultaneously adopted and deconstructed the method of first person shooting in his recent film The Dirties, utilize found footage as a tool to lend films a "stranger than fiction" sense of authenticity. The best examples of the genre are films like the Spanish horror [Rec] series, which uses cam only footage to viscerally communicate the potential actuality of being under siege by zombies. The worst examples are descendants of the hugely popular Cloverfield, blockbusters disguised as Indies that spend the whole movie struggling to sustain excuses for shooting anything beyond the spectacle of the effects.
Into the Storm is not without its merits, but it's far more an example of the latter than the former. While no one will accuse the film of not delivering on its title — it quite literally takes you into a wallop of a storm — its departure from the genre's roots is a major detriment. Unlike Blair Witch, which took a big page from the Jaws handbook by building psychological fear through avoiding the monster, Into the Storm puts it's eggs in the visual effects basket.
Naturally, the film centres on characters who have some excuse or another to end up filming the catastrophe in question. There are the two teenage boys who, within the first two minutes of being onscreen, spell out their entire backstory for a convenient high school time capsule. The audience immediately learns that they have a strict father (also their school principal) who is bereft since the death of his wife/their mother, and could use a life lesson or two about appreciating what's left of his family. Perhaps the only thing the audience doesn't find out from this cloyingly expository introduction is that the father will be played by an actor approaching his archetype like Don Draper meets Batman, a choice that sort of fits his clunky video game dialogue.
Other characters include footage-hungry storm chasers, led by Veep's Matt Walsh, as well as a single mother/tornado-obsessed scientist filmmaker, who may or may not at some point meet the aforementioned single father. And then who can forget Donk, the daredevil town drunk, out to show the world an asinine thing or two about taming tornadoes. Donk is one of the film's many lame attempts at comic relief in a film that doesn't need it. Heavy, ham-fisted drama is another mistake Into the Storm makes a few too many times for enjoyment, particularly one cringe-worthy scene involving two teens who, thinking it's the end, film their own final selfie-soliloquies.
The film is at its best when it sticks to storm chasing, as Into the Storm works surprisingly well when it revels in its stellar effects. Truth be told, visually, the film kicks major ass, and proves overwhelmingly engaging at many key moments. Had the creative team taken a cue from the genre's best examples and approached the script with the same gusto in which it tackles its visuals, Into the Storm could've been great.