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Into the Storm

Into the Storm

Tornadoes: God's way of telling you to move to the coast

dir: Steven Quale

2014

Does anyone really miss Twister? Is there a cult following for that tornado movie which had Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton chasing tornadoes, something which contravenes entirely common sense and basic human nature?

I would say no. No-one misses Helen Hunt. Twister was, however, bafflingly successful, and was one of the first times special effects became realistic enough to look more real than the nincompoop humans on screen.

Those tornados looked real, devastatingly real. And catastrophe on the big and small screens is dangerously compelling to us.

When Jan De Bont’s Twister succeeded, it created an entire genre of action movies derisively labelled as ‘weather porn’. When you think about the combination of the two words, it does make for a very complicated mental image. Basically, it just points to the idea that many of us ‘like’ (however that liking manifests itself) watching weather slap around a bunch of people and property for our entertainment.

Tornadoes are a great way of making it look like weather can take a personal and distinct form with which to kill people.

This isn’t the place to start moralising about it, about what it says about audiences. We’ve ALWAYS enjoyed watching disasters and catastrophes on screen. It dates back to when this crazy cinema thing started off. It’s just that collectively, as a species, we’re better at it now.

Into the Storm is the latest but doubtless not the last time tornadoes take our their frustrations on a bunch of Americans in that part of America God really seems to hate. No matter how many godbotherers seem to live in these places like Kansas and Oklahoma, the Christian God relentlessly seems to keep sending His chosen instruments of destruction, being tornadoes, to destroy trailer homes and churches alike, in His even more relentless determination to keep Christians on their toes.

Into the Storm, not very surprisingly, has tornadoes that feel and look more real than the people in the flick. I can’t prove that those people are any more real than the CGI used to generate the terrifying storms that punish these Americans. All these people really represent is mostly a bunch of mannequins / dolls whose safety is threatened so we can care something about what happens in the flick.

There are two characters whose entire dialogue consists of “Where is my son, I have to save my son, where is my son to be saved, saving my son is my only priority”. At one point I’m sure I heard the soundtrack breakdown completely, so that all I could hear was the wailing of the winds and a stolid man’s voice mumbling ‘son son son son son son son” over and over again.

I mean, kids are great, you’d do anything to protect them from anything, whether it be a storm or a sinful world or the dangers of transfats. This film reduces / raises that parental impulse to a form of high torture. This one chap’s son is put in so many forms of danger you’d think Nature Itself was toying with the father’s emotions, trying to find his breaking point

It’s so manipulative it’s almost comical, but just because something’s manipulative doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. It can certainly work, and there is a build up to a long, teased out suspenseful scene where we’re not sure someone is going to survive. And whether it works or not, there is a tremendous feeling of relief afterwards.

The other people in this area clearly don’t matter as much, as this guy’s son. Everyone else has the burden / pitiful condition of not being this Principal Skinner’s son. And he is a total Principal Skinner, in more ways than plenty.

His character’s name may be Vice Principal Gary Fuller, but he’s cut from the same sexless, stern, humourless cloth as Principal Skinner. Really, he comes across as some kind of animated Ken doll, struggling to save his doll children from a real weather apocalypse.

He is played by Richard Armitage, an actor I know nothing about, although it is with some incredulity that I note that this same actor who battles tornadoes here, tall and pale-eyed, wooden and plastic simultaneously, is actually a British actor, and his most famous role is probably as Thorin, the stolid humourless stern dwarf king in them there Hobbit movies. Who? What? How?

What is this sorcery that allows a man to transform his facial hair and height so completely, so he can fight both dragon and tornado and yet still never be able to smile?

That’s a bigger mystery than why these tornadoes keep relentlessly pursuing people as if they know the important of characters in order of top billing. There are other characters here too, but it’s not as if they stick out amidst all that carnage.

Sure, the screenplay takes the time to try to make them seem like 3 dimensional people with ‘real’ lives, hopes and dreams, but honestly, does anyone give a good goddamn about any of them? Principal Skinner and another woman who I’ll call Mattie the Meteorologist (Sarah Wayne Callies) have an entire conversation in which they compete to see who can express the most concern about their respective kids – “no, I’m more worried about my kid” “no, I’M super duper worried more about my kid”.

And on and on it went. There is almost a subplot, you could argue, about a professional stormchaser (Matt Walsh) probably based on one of those jerks on the cable channels, Discovery, not the Hitler one, who has a specially designed and constructed tank that can presumably take a licking from nature and keep on ticking, but he has a supreme disregard for the lives of the people around him. He’s all about the dollars, and the footage, but it’s also about seeing whether he’s going to put his mercenary impulses aside long enough to care about anyone else.

I wonder how that particular redemption story will play out. Before that happens, though, his wicked ways will indirectly lead to a guy being horribly killed by a firenado, which is what happens when a tornado and an explosion turn the lights down low, put some Barry White on the stereo, drink enough booze to get drunk (but not messy), and get it on.

There are lots of ways to die when you hang around tornadoes, and this flick finds dozens of ways for that to happen. It’s not gory or overly horrific, but it does seem like there’s this giant malicious weather god watching stuff and contriving to cut off avenues of escape, to force people into particular locations so it can torment them with their worst fears and the worst torments the hell of nature can provide.

For all the clichés in the script, for all the contrived hokeyness, for all its attempts to get us to care about people too stupid to move away from a place that has tornados regularly, it is amazing to watch. Visually it is world’s ahead of what Twister achieved, with the added advantage of not making me watch or listen to Helen Hunt for any length of time.

The storms that are generated, the dangers that are faced seem horribly real. There are plenty of “holy shit!” moments throughout, and blessedly the flick doesn’t make the mistake of sticking around too long. It does exactly what it sets out to do, and then leaves, which is what you want in an action movie where God tries to kill people with storms.

It has a strangely deterministic, almost moralising tone to its action, in that people who operate from impure motives tend to die, and people who act selflessly to save their own kids are mostly rewarded. This is the American moral universe not that we live in, but that these characters inhabit, and that’s okay. People would rather believe their actions matter to the universe rather than everything being random chaos, or even worse, that God or the gods are out to get them. Personally, the maltheist approach appeals to me (that God exists, and He hates us), although I can’t really see how it varies in practice from what actually happens in this world already, with or without tornadoes.

Into the Storm is the kind of flick I rarely recommend, because who needs to recommend a flick where people flee from storms? That this requires no intellectual engagement is purely in its favour, because this is to be enjoyed solely on the visual / visceral level, connecting as it does to the part of our lizard brains that still stands in awe of nature and its brilliant, destructive fury.

Come for the tornadoes. Laugh at the humans, and their pathetic attempts to avoid the inevitable.

7 times it’s hard not to side with the tornadoes sometimes out of 10

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“I've studied storms all of my life. This one is bigger than has ever been.” – I bet you say that to all the storms – Into the Storm

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