INTO THE STORM (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Intense Destruction and Peril, and Language including some Sexual References

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Directed by: Steven Quale

Written by: John Swetnam

Starring: Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Walsh, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Arlen Escarpeta, Jeremy Sumpter & Nathan Kress

The theatrical output of 2014 has already had a couple of stinkers that felt like they were Syfy Channel original movies rather than high grossing potential blockbusters (e.g. I, FRANKENSTEIN, ROBOCOP remake, and HERCULES). INTO THE STORM joins this crowd of films, but feels like a Syfy Channel flick somehow made it to the big screen in many more ways. None of the actors here are particularly big names (many having only been seen previous work mostly on TV shows or independent films) and the effects that some are hailing as impressive come off as unconvincing and transparent. It’s actually insulting how much of a failure INTO THE STORM is and to call it one of the worst movies of 2014 is a bit of an understatement.

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Mostly shot in the found footage style, INTO THE STORM follows various groups of people encountering the biggest storm ever recorded. Dangerous tornadoes are rapidly appearing in Silverton, Oklahoma. A filmmaking crew of storm chasers are heading towards this crowd of twisters and heavy rain in order to capture a shot from inside the eye of a tornado. Meanwhile, a graduation ceremony is thwarted from the extreme weather and the vice principal ventures out in the harsh weather to rescue his son from drowning in an abandoned factory (where he snuck off to with his potential girlfriend). Also, there’s a pair of rednecks doing stunts in the storm. Not all of these people make it out of the tornadoes, hail, and rain unscathed. Unfortunately, not nearly enough of these already lifeless characters bite it either.

INTO THE STORM, Alycia Debnam Carey, Max Deacon, 2014. ©Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection

The performers aren’t given much to work with other these characters being walking clichés (the troubled father trying to bond with his kids, the overly obsessed artist, the struggling single mother, the comic relief hillbillies, etc.). Lack of conceivable effort from the cast only serves to show that everyone working on this project already kind of knew this wasn’t going to resemble anything remotely good. What’s even more puzzling was New Line’s decision to release this in the final month of the Summer movie season (against competition like GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES). The most recognizable faces I saw were Jeremy Sumpter (star of some recent good indie fare like EXCISION) and Sarah Wayne Callies (who portrayed one of the most despicable people in AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD). In one of the worst obvious in-jokes I’ve seen in quite some time, a character remarks that “It’s like the zombie apocalypse out here” to Sarah Wayne Callies. Did I also mention that not nearly enough of these people die? It’s a disaster movie so that bears mentioning again.

INTO THE STORM, from left: Kyle Davis, Jon Reep, 2014. ©Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection

The effects that are clearly meant to be impressive eye-candy look cheesy. Good special effects convince the viewer subconsciously that what’s on the screen is what’s really happening. I never felt that way during STORM. These tornadoes, etc. look like cheap Syfy Channel CGI, thus adding much to my point that this should have been a Saturday night small screen event for the summer rather than 50-million dollar waste of space hitting 2,000 screen nationwide. Making things even more frustrating is how tonally schizophrenic the film is with corny dramatic moments and forced comic relief. The rednecks (one of which is played by Lil’ Kev from ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA) seem like they’re from a totally different movie. The final shot of the film negates any possible serious tone this tried to take for the most part. Also, the score is one of the most manipulative things I’ve heard all year. Solid music in a film adds to the already compelling scene at play, instead of deliberately telling the viewer how to feel. INTO THE STORM’s score squarely falls into the latter category.

INTO THE STORM, from left: Max Deacon, Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, 2014. ph: Ron

Adding to the overall confusion of this mess is the lack of obligation to stick to the found footage format, trekking into traditional narrative every now and then. Another film this year (THE QUIET ONES) switched between both styles of storytelling, but managed to work slightly better in the sense that it wasn’t fully committed to the handheld camera work. INTO THE STORM frequently points out that it’s a “documentary,” but there are shots that clearly aren’t being captured by any of the cameras used by the characters. It’s a lack of creativity and just plain lazy. Also this painfully bad flick is a lot longer than its deceiving 89 minute running time would imply.

INTO THE STORM, from left: Richard Armitage, Jeremy Sumpter, Alycia Debnam Carey, Nathan Kress,

I can’t think of a single redeeming factor or nice thing to say about INTO THE STORM. The confused tone tries to be dramatic, funny, and exciting. It fails horribly at all three. I wouldn’t even say this is enjoyable in an unintentionally campy way. It’s also rather apparent that the filmmakers, cast and writers couldn’t care less about the movie they were making. INTO THE STORM is lazy, tired, and worthless.

Grade: F

FRAILTY (2002)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 39 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence and Some Language

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Directed by: Bill Paxton

Written by: Brent Hanley

Starring: Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, Powers Boothe, Luke Askew, Jeremy Sumpter, Matt O’Leary

Thought-provoking and tragic, FRAILTY is one of those movies that plenty of people probably ignored on DVD shelves at their local video stores. It barely made its budget back upon release, though it has been praised by many critics. The film works as an unnerving unbinding of the ties between fathers and sons, as well as a horror film that is always stays two steps ahead of the viewer. Working from both behind and in front of the camera, Bill Paxton delivered an original horror film that will stick with most viewers long after its disturbing conclusion.

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Splitting its narrative between the 1979 and present day, most of the story is told through flashbacks. Fenton (Matthew McConaughey) shows up at a FBI building and claims to know the identity of a serial killer at large. When Agent Wesley Doyle probes further onto how he could possibly have this knowledge, he is told the sequence of events that took place in Fenton’s dark childhood. At points through these flashbacks, we cut back to the present to see the situation between Fenton and the agent progressing further.

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You may wonder what exactly made Fenton’s childhood so horrible. His widowed father is a loving, kind soul. His younger brother, Adam, thinks the world of him. That’s why it seems so out of character for their dad to burst into their bedroom in the middle of the night and claim to have received a vision from God. This vision told him that his family was chosen to slay demons that lay hidden around him. These demons look like regular people but are actually an evil that must be destroyed. While Adam is entranced with this idea and totally believes his father, Fenton is rightly skeptical. Their dad begins bringing home “demons” to destroy and things begin to intensify.

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Blending together a dual narrative, FRAILTY could have gone wrong in many ways. One plot could have wound up outshining the other. Even worse, the movie could have never really connected the dots at all by the conclusion. Luckily, the script weaves both the past and present together in a way that makes the viewer beg to see what will happen next in the other storyline as well as the one that they’re currently watching. Intricately connecting in ways that you might not even expect, FRAILTY leads to a series of unexpected surprises in its final act. These revelations make the plot much more tragic, deep, and scary than it appeared.

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Bill Paxton is simultaneously upsetting and terrifying to watch as a father who deeply loves his sons, but also thinks he’s been commanded to kill for God’s will. The struggle between he and Fenton intensifies with each passing second that they are on-screen. The commendable acting by a young Matt O’Leary (DEATH SENTENCE)  and an even younger Jeremy Sumpter (EXCISION) is probably the absolute best thing about the movie. It certainly helps that the material that everyone was given had some real meat to it and was far from the normal movie you’d see a child taking near center stage.

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There are a couple of things that hold FRAILTY back from being absolutely fantastic. These include some shoddy effects. Though the film rarely has moments involving the use of special effects, when it does (on two particular occasions), they look almost laughably fake. Luckily, they aren’t in crucial scenes and don’t turn the viewer away from what’s happening. Also Matthew McConaughey is really bland here. He’s usually a great actor (just look at his work in KILLER JOE), but he’s a bit wooden as the older version of Fenton.

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FRAILTY almost seems like a horror novel being visually told. This is not a problem in the slightest. The characters are well-developed. The twists the movie takes are unexpected. The atmosphere is thick with foreboding and dread. Finally, the story itself is original and clever. This is simply a really cool horror movie that you may not have heard of, but you should check out as soon as you can! Very much recommended!

Grade: A-

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