THE STORY – Experienced climber Pam Bales (Naomi Watts) ascends Mt. Washington and gets caught in a huge blizzard. As she tries to make her way down, she encounters a stranded man and takes it upon herself to get them both down the mountain before nightfall arrives and they succumb to the storm.
THE CAST – Naomi Watts, Billy Howle, Denis O’Hare & Parker Sawyers
THE TEAM – Małgorzata Szumowska (Director) & Joshua Rollins (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 97 Minutes
By Ema Sasic
Małgorzata Szumowska’s “Infinite Storm” is a great PSA for what not to do when it comes to mountain hiking in the winter. No. 1: If you see a storm is headed your way, turn around! It’s hard to scale up any mountain as is, but when you have a snowstorm with powerful winds and freezing temperatures, that climb can wait for another day. Of course, that’s the situation our protagonist, Pam Bales (Naomi Watts), an experienced hiker, finds herself in. We could write off this as just another Hollywood plot in most instances, but “Infinite Storm” is based on a true story.
In October 2010, Pam planned a six-hour loop hike through New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington State Park. As an experienced hiker who knew how unpredictable weather could be up on the mountains, she packed a bag with almost every item one would need in an emergency. That solo hike later turned into a rescue mission when she came across a lone man who was poorly dressed, covered in snow, and unaware of the situation he was in. The incredible story has been documented by Ty Gagne’s Reader’s Digest article “High Places: Footprints in the Snow Lead to an Emotional Rescue,” and now Szumowska puts the daring rescue on the big screen. Unfortunately, it’s a less than exciting screen adaptation.
In the film, audiences can immediately pick up on Pam’s expert hiking skills. She’s got a massive backpack filled with various clothing layers, bottles of water, and medical supplies. When she arrives at her trailhead, she places a map of the trail on her car’s windshield so that others know where to look for her if she goes missing. She thinks 20 steps ahead at all times, and she’s the perfect person to go hiking with for that exact reason.
But things slowly start to go wrong for our hero. As the weather gets more intense as she ascends the mountain, she falls into a hole where she has to wiggle herself out before frostbite starts to take over. When she manages one escape, she finds herself face-to-face with a man who is in desperate need of one. The man, who she calls John (Billy Howle), looks frozen, is in and out of consciousness, and is dressed for the beach rather than a mountainous expedition. Frostbite has already started to impact him, but Pam can’t leave him on his own.
While Pam’s real-life rescue is an incredibly awe-inspiring story, this adaptation doesn’t do it much justice. It’s a very by-the-numbers script with little suspense or shock, even though it’s clear that there are brutal winds and sub-freezing temperatures around them and a long journey to safety. Throughout, it seems like Watts and Howle are going through the motions of hiking down to the parking lot with not much emotion coming from them. Watts is way too calm as a character in a disaster situation – and we know she can go the extra mile as seen in “The Impossible” – while Howle, as the mystery man, is basically flopping around for most of the movie in a dazed state.
The writing is not exciting either. Pam has frequent memories of her two young daughters, and this backstory is handled in quite a cliche manner that takes us out of the action more than anything else. Little is revealed about John’s story until the very end, which is the more emotional moment of the film, but audiences will likely be checked out by then. It’s quite disappointing to see this story handled in such an unexciting and uninspired manner. From the performances to the writing to the bland visuals, “Infinite Storm” makes this harrowing rescue anything but that.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Naomi Watts and Billy Howle showed up to make a movie!
THE BAD – Given how incredible this real-life story is, the way it’s depicted isn’t very thrilling or gripping. Pam’s backstory feels cliche. Watts and Howle seem like they’re going through the motions. Nothing really stands out.
THE OSCAR PROSPECTS – None