Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Szumowska’s Infinite Storm

From time to time, newspaper articles have been adapted into feature films, like the Oscar winning On the Waterfront, based on Malcolm Johnson’s series on corruption within the New Jersey longshoremen unions, published in The New York Sun. Often such source material is culled from major metro papers that have national distribution. However, The Manchester Union Leader now shares that distinction, having published Tye Gagne’s article, a real-life outdoors rescue story chronicled in Malgorzata Szumowska’s Infinite Storm, which opens Friday in theaters.

For her minimal fictionalized backstory, Pam Bales wants to hike the trail around Mount Washington on the anniversary of a personal tragedy, so she sets out despite the stormy weather expected later that day. Bales is a volunteer member of the rescue patrol, who is quite familiar with the mountain. She knows how to properly equip herself and she is not suicidal. However, none of that seems to be the case for the solitary hiker she spies from a distance. Judging from his tracks, he is wearing tennis shoes. When she finally catches up with him, she finds the lightly dressed stranger on the verge of hypothermia.

Since the non-communicative man is in a state of shock, Bales decides to call him “John.” Relying on her training, she tries to guide him down the mountain, but he is not always cooperative. All the while, the weather grows increasingly harsh.

Infinite Storm
is a pretty straight forward and competent survival-against-the-elements adventure. Naomi Watts is totally realistic and grounded as Bales, but she never has little time or opportunity to develop her character. That is even more the case for Billy Howle playing “John.” Instead, Szumowska’s film is almost entirely focused on the business of survival. That gives it an immediacy and an honesty, but most viewers will not form a long-term emotional connection to it.

Infinite Storm is vastly more commercial than any of Szumowska’s previous films (such as the intriguing Never Gonna Snow Again or the pretentious The Other Lamb). Indeed, it is a welcome departure. She gets the job done staging various near-disasters, but the picture doesn’t have the sense of scale or ominous grandeur found in similar mountain-themed films.

Watts and Szumowska manage to end with a graceful payoff, but most of the film plays out quite conventionally (the last thing Szumowksa’s admirers might expect from her). It is respectable, but hardly essential. If you read the
Union Leader article, you’ve pretty much got it all. Mostly recommended for Granite Staters, for whom Bales’ rescue has become legendary, Infinite Storm opens this Friday (3/25) in New York, including the AMC Lincoln Square.