Day 231: Into the Storm

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When I first saw the preview for this disaster movie about a small town hit by tornadoes, I was pretty sure I’d pass on this one. The theater audience watching with me reacted strongly to the preview, which began with the haunting wail of storm sirens. However, my mom and sister wanted to see this movie. During this year of firsts, I haven’t backed down from my emotions or anything that triggers them. For my first today, I saw the movie Into the Storm.

Into the Storm stars Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Walsh and Max Deacon. It was directed by Steven Quale. This thriller/drama is rated PG-13, for storm violence and language and has a run time of 1 hour and 29 minutes.

A small town in northeastern Oklahoma, Silverton, is having high school graduation and going about life as normal, unaware that a series of dangerous storms is approaching, capable of producing strong tornadoes. A group of storm chasers is very aware of the unstable weather and is headed to Silverton in hopes of capturing a tornado on film. Pete, played by Matt Walsh, drives his team of storm chasers onward ruthlessly, willing to risk everything and everyone to get his footage. Meteorologist Allison Stone (Sarah Wayne Callies) finds herself at odds with her boss, trying to prove that data is more reliable than instinct in predicting where the next tornado will appear.

In Silverton, high school vice principle Gary Fuller (Richard Armitage) is concerned about the changing weather, and about the whereabouts of his son, Donnie (Max Deacon) who has slipped away to help his high school crush complete a video assignment for school. As the storm cells approach Silverton, they spawn small tornadoes and then progressively larger and more violent tornadoes, until a massive EF5 tornado forms that threatens to destroy the entire town, and everyone in it.

Whether it was intentional or not, this film parallels the events of the Joplin tornado. There are many similarities, beginning with the storms striking on the day of the town’s high school graduation. Other points of similarity included storm chasers arriving in the town, the highly unstable weather conditions that produced multiple cells that merged together to create a  monster tornado, security camera views and footage of destruction in the halls of the high school, a shot of the school’s sign, with some letters missing, and a high school student who was a videographer. In the movie, he survives. Sadly, Joplin’s well known and charismatic high school senior videographer was one of the victims of the 2011 tornado. There is a scene in the movie where the meteorologist says that tornado producing storms are becoming more frequent and unpredictable. Look at Katrina….and Joplin, she says.

I wasn’t sure how this movie would impact me. I confess to feeling a bit tense as the movie began. The sound of the sirens going off, several times, and the sound of debris hitting cars and buildings and the crash of breaking glass very much reminded me of May 22. Although I watched most of the movie with my arms crossed tightly across my chest, a protective posture, I forced myself to detach, and just observe. While the acting and storyline were average, the special effects of the tornadoes and the damage inflicted upon the town were very well done and had the feel of a documentary. The use of hand held cameras by characters in the film contributed to that feeling. I found myself watching for details such as the trees being stripped of foliage. One of the movie’s last scenes felt “right” when the eye of the EF5 tornado passed over the group of characters who had taken shelter in an underground drain system. They thought the tornado had passed. Their relief was short lived when they realized the calm was the eye, and the trailing edge of the massive tornado was about to strike, and the second wave of wind would be worse than the leading edge. Joplin residents found that to be true. I found that to be true. It was during that last surge of power that I thought the house was ripping upward from its foundation.

As I crouched in the darkened closet during the tornado, I could hear the roar and the sound of breakage, feel the house shudder and creak and pull upward. I couldn’t see what was happening. I saw the aftermath. I saw amateur videos afterwards and clips from storm chasers. I watched footage from security cameras mounted within the high school and St. John’s Hospital that documented the time of impact and the immediate destruction that followed. A part of me has wanted to be able to see what the tornado looked like, see the debris fields as they formed, watch with an impartial eye, and watch without turning away, as the massive twister moved through town. Somehow, watching Into the Storm tonight gave me a chance to do that. Seeing that huge swirling mass of black move through the fictional town of Silverton, tossing cars, crumpling buildings and exploding electrical poles, allowed me to face my own memories and fill in the blanks of what I couldn’t see. I could allow sorrow and fear to dissipate as surely as the tornado did, both on the screen and in Joplin.

I was pleased the movie ended with the characters being filmed as they spoke of survival and life and the hope of rebuilding their town. I have seen this lived out in reality. I am grateful that hope always prevails.

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