Apart from Michele lobbying for this film in the wake of the horror of Hannibal, I wouldn’t have considered 2014 disaster flick Into The Storm for a rewatch, had ITS not been on Irish free TV at the end of January. That already preempts my verdict to some degree. You see, I don’t think that it is what we call “ganz großes Kino” in German [great cinema]. To stay with the metaphor, it’s probably more along the lines of “ganz großes Damentennis” [great women’s tennis]. Ok, those are in-jokes for those who can speak German.
Very bad form, Guylty, very bad! What it means is: ITS is not a triumph of early 21st century cinema. And this is why:
It’s an ordinary day in Silverton, OK, where single-parent assistant principal Gary Fuller herds his teenage sons Trey and Donnie to school. Trey is documenting the day with his camcorder; Donnie, the elder of the two, is pissed off with his dad. Daddy Gary at the same time is distracted by the preparations for the afternoon’s graduation ceremony. Meanwhile, a motley crew of ‘storm chasers’ have come into the area because they expect a strong hurricane to landfall. And it does – but it’s the mother of all hurricanes, a monster storm that wreaks havoc in Silverton, scatters the graduation, and, worst of all, traps Donnie Fuller together with love interest Kaitlyn in a disused mill where they nearly drown – if it hadn’t been for Daddy Fuller, the quirky brother, and some unexpected help from the storm chasers. But all’s well that ends well: daddy comes to rescue, the youngsters are saved at the last minute, the nasty career-storm chaser gets his comeuppance but simultaneously redeems himself, and the Fuller lads are one happy family again.
So, we’ve got the ingredients for a regular summer blockbuster here: (natural) disaster with opportunity for big time CAD, vaguely topical issue (global warming), family dynamics (dad vs son), small little love story (Donnie & Kat, Gary & meteorologist Allison), nasty slave-driving boss getting what he deserves, single-parent mother separated from her child because of work, two country-bumpkin eejits for light relief, major, nail-biting drama and a happy ending. Maybe some of what is wrong with the film is already visible in that list: There is too much in it, and it doesn’t *quite* know what it wants to be. It takes on too many things, and instead of just being content with being a two-dimensional, silly disaster movie along the lines of Sharknado, it wants to take itself seriously, attempting “issues” in order to attract viewers. The strength of disaster movies is usually the special effects or the computer design of the catastrophe. So why obscure that silly fun with serious issues? Global warming as the cause of intense weather phenomena? Of course, we know that. But do I look to a summer movie to learn more about the effects of climate change? Eh, no! Just as much as I don’t want to get into a subtle subplot about single-parent issues and the strains of having to separate from your child in order to earn money. Just get on the with the disaster, throw around a few 10-ton-trucks and jumbo jets, and I’ll be happy.
In that sense, the strongest scenes in the movie are the action/disaster sequences. When Gary runs across the street after his car is inadvertently crashed, and a pick-up truck smashes into the pavement about ten feet beside him, then that is great (disaster) cinema. Armitage clinging on to a car door for dear life – and to save met lady Allison from being sucked up into the tornado: predictable but essential ingredient to a disaster movie.
And bonus: wet bum shot. Of Armitage! Not the woman! *That* would be sexist! A whole group of helpless humans, huddling in a massive drain for shelter against the storm, being thrown around by mother nature – great both in terms of providing scale as well as giving more opportunity for heroics. But all that sentimental crap about Allison not being with her daughter, Gary and Donnie’s relationship being strained, and Pete the storm chaser pressuring his underlings into risking their lives – unnecessary and not believable.
Not least because the characters are mere cardboard cut-outs, stereotypes, and as such just a cheap trick to offer a quick n easy way to identify or engage with one of the characters. Yet I found it strangely difficult to get invested because the characters were just too stereotypical: The hard-working father who is trying his best to bring up his sons; elder son has an issue with dad being over-protective. Young son OTOH is happy-go-lucky popular kid. Met lady has small daughter who lives with grandparents because mum has to travel for work: I should’ve latched on to these people immediately because I share one massive characteristic with them – I am a parent. (Happy mother’s day, btw.) But that one facet in a person is not enough for me to connect and engage with a character. I understand that ITS is a film that is basically telling a story in real time. So there is no opportunity for massive insights or for character set-up. Or maybe there would’ve been if the film had concentrated on fewer characters. Apart from Pete the head storm chaser, did we need Allison and the other storm chasing crew? We certainly didn’t need the town eejits, and we probably could also have done without the burgeoning love story between Donnie and Kaitlyn. If Gary Fuller was the main character, then the film should’ve focussed on him – and his heroics. That would’ve done the trick.
As for Armitage in the film: No complaints as such. His performance is solid – as it always is. You can sort of tell that this is basically his first time playing an American character. The accent doesn’t sit well with him – it just doesn’t sound right imo: When he speaks, his whole voice changes. It’s deeper in tone, and not as melodious as usual. Which is a pity, because his voice (and his vocal talents) are always an asset to any show. Otherwise he gets away with portraying the great looking, fit and healthy athletic All American dad, right down to those beautifully regular white and shiny front teeth. I do buy his act as a dad – in fact more so than his act as the vice principal of a small town high school. The man just is too gorgeous for such an existence. Casting fail *grins*.
The effects in the film work well – once you suspend your disbelief, everything is possible, and the fire tornado or the monster hurricane that bounces jumbo jets around as if they were matchbox toys, look reasonably real. The climactic storm scene – with Pete’s (literal) comeuppance – OTOH is designed straight from baroque altar pieces (see right). Towering clouds fading into white… You almost expect the eye of providence to pop up on top of the screen. And so sickly sweet with its bright clouds and shining light and predictable that it spoils the otherwise hair-raising disaster porn.
For me, the greatest regret of the film is that its concept obviously changed at some point. The initial idea of basing the majority of the film on “found footage” – was actually a great idea, both in terms of aesthetics as well as story telling. But that concept eventually is thrown out of the window even though little brother Trey, who executes the concept at the beginning of the film by shooting a ‘time capsule project’, continues to carry the camera with him. From the middle of the film found footage is not happening anymore – which makes the film strangely asymmetrical. One wonders whether the film was significantly reshot after screen testing? There definitely were reshoots, as can be seen as early as the first scene of the film when Gary’s hair is definitely shorter than a scene later…
Miraculous hair growth. Well, RA has mentioned before that he has won prizes for growing his beard faster than anyone else… Looks as if the Armitagean follicles are stuff of legend and miracle!
Unfortunately, the second time ‘round, the film doesn’t improve. When I watched it in the cinema – summer evening, teenage son with me, bag of pop corn at the ready – it really did what it set out to do: It was a meaningless summer flick, more aimed at the boys than the girls, easily whiling away 89 minutes with lots of rain, thunder, assorted farm equipment flying through the air and the occasional jumbo jet twirling across the airport concourse. Four and a half years later, the film hasn’t exactly become a cult classic. And it’s easy to see why: It’s neither excruciatingly bad, nor exquisitely good. Maybe the audience wants to see even more extreme effects – or the opposite is true and in light of global warming the audience *doesn’t* want to be reminded of the havoc that the climate can play with us. And without any particularly exciting human interest story in the film, ITS has been laid to rest in the mid-week movie graveyard. That’s not what Richard Armitage deserves – who gives his best as he always does. Maybe all it was for him, was an elaborate screen test. He certainly comes across well. And at least he has ticked another genre off his list.
What about you? What do you think about the film? Comment below or write a post on your blog and link back to me so we can discuss!
PS: April is coming! And we need a new re-watch. Suggestions?