‘Infinite Storm’: A resonant ending elevates Naomi Watts’ mountain thriller
Overwhelmed by winds and cold, a climber has to take on a rescue as well in intense adventure;
We’ve known for more than two decades Naomi Watts is one of our most reliable actors and we know she’ll never shy away from physically demanding roles, whether she’s mixing it up with “King Kong” (2005), playing a doctor whose family is swept up in a deadly tsunami and sustains serious injuries in “The Impossible” (2012) or, last month, portraying a mother who is stranded in the woods, injures herself and hobbles about while trying to get back home after a shooting at her son’s school in “The Desperate Hour.”
Watts fights through arguably the most physically and emotionally challenging role of her career in “Infinite Storm, which might well leave the viewer drained, and we’re just bearing witness to this struggle.
At times almost too unbearably intense to watch but ultimately rewarding and with an uplifting twist, “Infinite Storm” is based on the amazing, true-life story of one Pam Bales, who in 2010 set out on an excursion to the top of Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeastern United States, which is famous for its unpredictable weather and exhilarating but dangerous paths. (That the climb begins so close to the highway only makes it more harrowing; at first blush, the mountain doesn’t seem so intimidating at all.)
Bleecker Street presents a film directed by Małgorzata Szumowska and written by Joshua Rollins. Rated R (for some language and brief nudity). Running time: 104 minutes. Opens Thursday at local theaters.
Stocking up on hot chocolate and extra layers of clothing at the local store at the base of the mountain, Pam is warned by her old friend Parker (Denis O’Hare) that storms are imminent, but she tells him, You know what day this is, and as we learn later, it’s the anniversary of a seminal moment in Pam’s life, and the only way she can get through the day is by losing herself in the mountains.
It’s not long before the weather goes from ominous to daunting to life-threatening, and Pam will be lucky to make it back home—and that’s when she comes across a man who is wearing gym shoes and light clothing and is a state of near-death. What in the world? The man (played by Billy Howle) is barely conscious and can’t or won’t even give his name, so Pam calls him “John” through the rest of their hellish journey together.
With Slovenia filling in for New Hampshire and some seamless visual effects as well, director Malgorzata Szumowska plunges us into the blistering winds and frigid cold, as Pam fights every inch of the way to save herself and John—who doesn’t necessarily WANT to be rescued. (What was he doing up there in the first place, essentially dressed to die?)
It’s no spoiler alert to reveal Pam, and John, eventually make it back, but in some ways the real story is just beginning to unfold. John disappears without a trace. We learn the tragic back story of Pam’s past. Finally, everything comes together, and when we discover the truth about John, it only makes the previous series of events that much more resonant and feeling. “Infinite Storm” can be a tough climb, but it’s one well worth undertaking.