Starring Naomi Watts, Sophie Okonedo, Billy Howle, Denis O’Hare
The title refers to more to psychological trauma than a never-ending snow storm. However, “Infinite Storm” is the survival story of search and rescuer Pam Bales, played by Oscar nominee Naomi Watts.
Last month we saw the “Divergent” star in discardable one-woman thriller “The Desperate Hour.” The concept here is infinitely better, with some really spectacular aerial and drone footage of Slovenia, which is doubling for the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. It’s a time stamp true story that takes the viewer on a journey of rescue through harsh wintery elements, yet keeps the audience in the dark about motives from both our main characters. Director Malgorzata Szumowska’s documentarian background influences everything from the narrative to the visual storytelling.
On the yearly anniversary of her children’s death, Pam Bales (Watts) ascends Mount Washington, the most prominent mountain east of the Mississippi. “Cheaper than therapy,” she jokes. Bales is a member of the search and rescue team, fully prepared for anything that might come her way along the snowy elevation. She didn’t expect a hiker in shorts and tennis shoes, seemingly catatonic with no will to live. She calls him John (Billy Howle), and without the luxury of time to determine whether he is on drugs or just had a death wish, she begins an effort to save his life. They begin the descent down the mountain facing freezing temperatures, hurricane force winds and rapidly fading daylight.
“Infinite Storm” lacks real connective tissue between the documented elements of the rescue.
Naomi Watts is no stranger to survival films. Her tougher than nails performance in “The Impossible,” another true story, about a family who survives a tsunami, was her most recent Oscar nomination. Her work here is committed for sure, but about fifty percent reliant on stunt double. The more impressive cinematic work is that of the camera operators and editing team, who mostly balance out Watts’ narrative with wide shots and weather photography. What doesn’t work so well is the emaciated screenplay, holding a bit too much from the viewer. The running time is barely 90 minutes, with the final 15 dedicated to unsatisfactorily answering our burning questions.
“Infinite Storm” lacks real connective tissue between the documented elements of the rescue. While Szumowska’s documentary filmmaking approach aids the visual elements of the film, the lack of interest in adding more character development doesn’t do the film any favors. There are also survival technique questions: Why is she stripping down a freezing man to his naked skin, and why isn’t she giving him some of that steaming coffee in her thermos? The screenplay doesn’t address many of Bales’ techniques. The opening frame starts our countdown with a 6 a.m. wake up alarm, and simple editing cuts move the story and the hours along — until midway through the film, where Szumowska begins using the cut-to-black technique. Initially jarring, eventually it’s just lazy filmmaking.
Infinite Storm is a barebones rescue film that’s plagued less by genres cliches than the documentary director’s lack of feature experience.