Tensely thrilling and well-performed, Malgorzata Szumowska’s Infinite Storm takes a true-life tale of survival and turns it into a human drama about helping your fellow man.
Naomi Watts stars as Pam Bales, an experienced mountain climber living alone in New Hampshire. As she has dozens of times, Pam gathers her gear and plans a trek up Mount Washington on an October morning. Despite potentially dangerous weather forecasts for later in the day, Pam begins her trek.
When the weather turns on the climb, Pam intends to descend, but follows a set of footprints to a not-dressed-for-the-weather man she names John (Billy Howle). Realizing the dire situation John is in, Pam utilizes her amateur search and rescue skills to nurse John to relative health and attempts get him (and herself) off the mountain before nightfall.
Based on an article by the New Hampsire Union Leader, the film utilizes the vast landscapes and treacherous winds to its advantage. The beginning of Pam’s climb seems relatively pleasant. She removes her shirt and hikes in a sports bra and pants. As the elevation climbs, so do the risks. To the film’s credit, the dangers faced on the mountain are enough without adding in unnecessary drama, such as bears or wolves. Just getting back to humanity is the struggle.
Humanity plays a big factor in Pam’s rescue attempt. When she finds John on the side of the mountain, she has just recently saved herself from a precarious situation. She quickly judges the severity of the environment and springs into action to save a man she doesn’t know. Even helping John down the mountain is not as simple as guiding him. She thinks of his safety first before her own as the terrain becomes more dangerous.
This story ends up being about loss. Pam is still grieving over the accidental deaths of her daughters, while John is grieving a loss of their own. Together, they attempt to brave something so much bigger than themselves to endure. The uncaring and unrepentant aspect of mother nature works as a metaphor for an uncaring world. Despite the elements trying to break you down, someone with humanity and empathy can assist you and get you back to safety.
Watts is in every scene and her steady hand guides the film. She is in action for the majority of the runtime, and the scenes of her ascending the mountain never feel inauthentic. She wears the weather of experience and preparedness of the character well. There is a scene of cathartic release which features some of the best acting Watts has ever done. Reminiscent of Captain Phillips, Watts allows her character to truly revel in the amazing events the audience has just witnessed. She is moment-to-moment sad, gleeful, and exasperated.
Howle is a purposefully empty page. John is a mystery to Pam and the audience. We don’t get much insight into his character until a monologue late in the film. It is not a long-winded explanation of the entirety of his personality, but it does give glimpses of the person the audience can’t really understand. Howle doesn’t overdo anything and allows his character to be a cypher.
Szumowska doesn’t over-explain the events. Pam is confused by what is happening and the director keeps the action equally confusing, despite the relative straightforwardness. Some of John’s actions are totally unexplained, but Pam doesn’t care and continues on her mission.
While not strictly a survival drama, Watts’ steady hand helps propel the film to greater heights. Featuring some impressive nature cinematography, Szumowska delivers a compelling drama about finding humanity in grief.