Found footage films have an implicit, structural principle that basically works like this: A disaster or otherwise horrible event has been captured on shaky hand-held cameras by ‘real’ people who just happened to be there and had the insight to capture what was happening for clarity for the people who weren’t there. Then sometime after the event, someone finds the footage (hence the genre name) and collates it for public viewing. The audience then watches the film and it all feels very authentic and scary.
The problem however, is that for this central conceit to work, the footage that is ‘found’ needs to be of sufficient interest to be worth collating and releasing for audiences. In The Blair Witch Project, the main characters had supposedly disappeared so the footage acts as a missing persons document. In Cloverfield the footage is ‘left exactly as recorded out of respect for the dead’ and there is a massive alien involved – this makes the footage worth preserving.
Into The Storm is the narrative of a super-storm hitting a small town in Colorado told through the actions of three equally banal groups of people: A team of storm chasers comprised of tired clichés; a high-school principal and his sons preparing for graduation day and a group of rednecks undertaking crazy stunts. All three therefore have a reason to be filming themselves throughout the day, but the problem is that the events of the day are simply not exciting enough to be collected together.
Too many people survive the storm for it to act as a visual memorial of the characters final days (as in the films mentioned above), and the event itself (a storm) is not unusual enough for an unseen editor to bother collecting this footage and releasing it to cinemas. The found-footage contract between filmmaker and audience completely falls apart as the footage is just too boring (and laughably fake) to believe anyone would turn it into a film.
Also, the filmmakers show a stunning lack of creativity when using the found footage genre conventions. At one point there are two characters holding cameras having an argument, so the footage is cut back and forth as you would expect in a gonzo/documentary style, so far so good, but then the shot cuts to a random 2-shot from the side completely breaking the ‘found footage’ illusion. This happens numerous times and completely spoils what measly tensions there is.
Inconsistent technical conventions aside, the even bigger problems of Into The Storm are the horrible characters and embarrassing narrative exposition. All of the characters are completely expendable, to the point where even as an emotional father is trying to save his drowning son I simply couldn’t bring myself to want him to survive. This felt more like a SyFy made-for-TV movie than a cinema release distributed by Warner Brothers. The dialogue is so predictable that I often resorted to giggling, before I realised that other people had simply chosen to leave the cinema – an increasingly costly financial decision these days…
Conventional wisdom amongst film commentators tends to suggest that the found footage format is overused and has run its course. But recent film The Borderlands proved that if you play by the rules, then you can still make a decent genre film with tension and atmosphere. Into The Storm broke all of the rules and was simply too boring – It deserves to sink to the bottom of the if-all-else-fails Netflix playlist and make space in cinemas for something that doesn’t insult its audiences…