Review: ‘Into The Storm’ offers visceral thrills but can barely keep a straight face

Steven Quale's movie before this was “Final Destination 5,” which turns out to be a pretty great training ground for the specific skills he would need to pull off the admittedly impressive technical challenge that is “Into The Storm.”

When you're directing a “Final Destination” movie, you don't have a bad guy you can point the camera at. You don't have Michael or Jason or Freddy. Instead, you've got bad luck and the environment and timing and all these subtle things all in play, and that's what ends up killing the characters. You have to be able to show that, communicate the notion of how it's all connected. You have to give character to a malevolent force that has no actual shape or form. I think Quale did a fine job, and he was the one who got to shoot that great ending that brought the entire series into a different focus, making his one of the pivotal movies of the franchise.

It drives me crazy when I see a film that doesn't really know what it's trying got say or that seems like it's pulling in several directions at once. “Into The Storm” is a very silly movie in some ways, but it is unflinchingly clear about what it's trying to do. This is a disaster movie, pure and simple, and everything is geared towards putting the audience in the path of a giant tornado.

John Swetnam's script shows an admirable sense of restraint as the film takes the first half-hour to forty minutes to simply set up characters and geography so that when it does finally turn into running and yelling and tornadoes destroying things, you'll hopefully already be invested. There are two primary storylines that are introduced. One has to do with Gary (Richard Armitage), a vice-principal at a local high school who has a rocky relationship with his two teenage sons, Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress). The other is about Pete (Matt Walsh), a documentary filmmaker who is chasing the perfect shot of the eye of a tornado along with his team, led by storm expert Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies).

This is not a film where the actors are called upon to dig deep, emotionally speaking. Instead, it's all about how well they can sell the physical reality of what they're doing. All the wind and the rain and the fire must have helped. It looks like they did as much of this in a practical on-set way as possible, and the digital work is properly awesome and impressive when we finally pull back to get a larger perspective on things. If you just want to see tornadoes mess things up, you'll get plenty of that, and it's certainly rendered with a realistic eye for detail.

The places where the film falls short are those places where it tries too hard to give supporting characters their big emotional payoff. The film barely services the main characters and their arcs, so there's really no room for the sort of delicate etching needed to make supporting characters live and breathe. The film is at its best when it embraces the goofy nature of disaster films in general, and when it gives the audience the red meat it craves so desperately.

Technically speaking, “Into The Storm” looks good. I'm still mystified by the use of the first-person perspective throughout. It's not a found footage movie, but it does spend a surprising amount of time trying to sell the idea that we're seeing “real” footage of what happened. It feels like they could have dropped that angle completely, and it would have been the exact same movie. The film drops the device whenever it needs to anyway, so it seems like something they should have dropped.

Overall, I suspect that if you've seen a trailer for “Into The Storm” and thought, “Was that a fire tornado? How's that work?”, then you will probably enjoy the simple pleasures the film has to offer. If you expect anything more from your disaster movies than the disaster, this may not be for you.

“Into The Storm” opens Friday