There are many instances of questionable logic in Into the Storm, but the most persistent is the unexplained assumption that tornado-hunting is a growth industry. Four anonymous teenagers die in the opening scene as one attempts to capture a cyclone on his cellphone. Soon after, a band of hicks dub themselves “Twista Hunterz” when the warning sirens begin to blare in the town of Silverton, merrily venturing into danger expecting viral fame and fortune. Pete (Matt Walsh), the film’s veteran storm documentarian and resident asshole, is convinced the “shot of the century”—video shot from inside the eye of a tornado—will bring him untold riches. Despite a cessation of funding from his illusory corporate sponsors, Pete offers a teenager $3,000 for storm footage he could find on YouTube a few hours hence. Into the Storm might wish to imply that we’re watching the film that will make Pete rich, but the result of director Stephen Quale’s haphazard engagement with his found-footage premise is that most of the film’s laughs are unintentional.
Pete’s profit-driven self-righteousness is counterweighted by Into the Storm’s homage to ordinary, but broken, middle-class families. His primary hired help, and the film’s only major female character, is Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies), a single mother and meteorological scientist. As Allison video chats with the daughter she’s left hundreds of miles away to earn a paycheck, Pete chides her lack of “instinct” as a storm-chaser. Meanwhile, brothers and Silverton high schoolers Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress) are working on filming a time capsule for that day’s graduation ceremony. They struggle with their taciturn father and vice principal, Gary (Richard Armitage), who’s dedicated himself to his work since their mother died in a car accident. Every child guilt-trips their parent in the film’s opening minutes—“Nothin’s ever good enough for you, Dad,” one earnestly says—as encroaching tornadoes suggest a recalibration of work-life balance, if not the restorative tonic of romance, is in the offing.
Into the Storm is, at least, efficient in setting up these dull and occasionally retrograde plot machinations. Once Donnie finds himself in a derelict paper mill with his unrequited crush, the film stitches itself together with shock cuts cribbed from the Lost playbook. Every escalation of circumstances in the mill is matched by a new storm cluster or downed tree on the other side of Silverton, where Gary and the storm-chasers are the only rescue unit in sight. All of these characters engage in acts of straight-faced stupidity: walking toward a nearby tornado, driving a bus full of children toward a nearby tornado, and a painful stretch of scenes where numerous characters compulsively check for cell service. Gaps in the film’s found-footage fabric become increasingly glaring, particularly when we watch one videographer get swept up into a cyclone of fire. (Which of his friends is shooting this without flinching?) Into the Storm doesn’t betray any sense of humor about any of this, but it remains blandly watchable despite its lunkheadedness.
Quale offers no sense of the geography of his Midwestern setting, but localized set pieces are rendered with a respect for the hypnotic nihilism of a tornado’s random path and its random acts of destruction. If he’s lacking in good sense as a dramaturge, leaving his two attractive single-parent leads as bland and single as he found them, Quale at least stumbles on some memorable images, like a child’s bike thrust into a the door of a minivan, amid the chaos and subsequent rubble. As we watch planes and semis get sucked into the film’s ultimate twister, our awe outweighs our skepticism about whether a small Midwestern town would have a regional airport, and which of the film’s amateur videographers managed to scurry away to it.