Disaster movies over the last decade or so have evolved from catastrophe-specific invocations of usually very localized doom and destruction to more grandiose apocalyptic visions in which the devastation of nature is not limited to time and place, but is instead world-ending in breadth and scope. Into the Storm is a throwback (hoping that’s not a pun), a film centered on tornadoes ravaging a limited area affecting a few states. Admittedly, the storm in the film ends up being the baddest mother of all tornados, but this is more evocation and thrill ride than ecological manifesto.
The film brings the audience along through the whole process. There is the nonchalant, early gaiety as the storm is viewed as nothing more than an ordinary rain. During this build-up, the film tracks the lives of various characters and their activities in the morning before the storm hits – including a troop of tornado storm-trackers who are determined to plunge into the heart of the maelstrom.
In the calm before the storm, the normality of the characters is almost boring, the joys and traumas of daily life being inherently mundane. The storm-tracking team hasn’t managed to find a tornado in a year. The high school’s assistant principal (Richard Armitage) is having no luck communicating with his sons as he readies for graduation ceremonies.
The film lingers on this beginning, which builds audience anticipation. We know this calm and normal surface is soon to be shattered. And it is. Into the Storm takes us through the experience of a natural disaster: ignorance followed by growing awareness, followed by shock, followed by shock and awe, and ending in the joy of survival and the despair over the death and destruction left behind.
Into the Storm captures the magnificence of tornadoes, their awful beauty when they set down, the devastation they wreak, and the enormity of their consequences. The film features a rich array of well-developed characters – including the storm itself – which makes it ever more involving as it unfolds.
The film’s ambitions are no greater than capturing and evoking a terribly devastating storm. It achieves this and even pulls off such sleights of hand as sacrificing a few characters, but having the majority of them not only emerge on the other side but be the better for the whole experience. By the end, this allows more of a sense of triumph and hope than doom and despair.