After a freak overnight tornado is reported, a team of stormchasers (Matt Walsh and Sarah Wayne Callies) arrive in a small town hoping to take a tornado-proof vehicle with two dozen video cameras into the eye of a twister. At the same time, a local high school is filming a virtual time capsule for their vice principal (Richard Armitage) on graduation day – just before the sirens start going off. Over the course of only a few hours, nerves and mettle will be tested as the unprecedented destruction of a small town begins…
It seems likely that one or more individuals were sitting around one day and said, “Hey, can you imagine how cool Twister would look if it was done with today’s special effects?” While Twister did have something of a plot between the characters and how important stormchasing was, it really never delved into the devastation or human cost: it was an effects film, plot be damned. Kudos to revitalizing the found-footage concept by simultaneously showing a high school making a video time capsule while the stormchasers have manual and automatic cameras of their own; it creates the idea that, after everything that happens, there’s enough footage to tell a complete story while providing that all-essential excuse why people are filming this instead of running for their lives. To the credit of the filmmakers, it’s entertaining, it works, and it doesn’t pull any punches.
Before you start thinking, “Yeah, well, it’s not like they have any good actors for this.” Not so! Moviegoers might recognize Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield doing his best to tick off a great red dragon named Smaug in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy; Sarah Wayne Callies as Lori, Carl’s mother from “The Walking Dead” and a lady of good taste (couldn’t resist); comedic actor Matt Walsh (Ted, The Hangover, Old School) turns in a dark performance as stormchaser Pete hellbent on capturing the shot of a lifetime, whatever the cost. Even the mixed cast of high schoolers seemed pretty easy-going and believable rather than wooden acting or horror-style total freak outs; the cast believably gets under your skin, just enough to care when the modest body count starts to rise.
The movie has a short running time – about ninety minutes – but not so much that you’d notice; that’s probably a good thing as it keeps up the urgency. There’s little downtime with just enough setup to get it all going. Unlike many found-footage films, this one truly embraces the selfie generation and teenage “we’re all on TV these days” narcissism, including a couple of drunken daredevils for a bit of comedic relief. For what’s essentially a disaster movie, the act of taking a genuine opportunity to make the audience care and delivering the goods without turning into a kill-by-kill horror flick turns the real-meter up to eleven, and that’s no small feat for any effects-intensive summer film. While many of you may be heading back to see Guardians of the Galaxy again this weekend, don’t be too upset if you wind up in this one; sometimes the film with zero expectations going in sends you home with a smile on your face.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)