Review: Harrowing Rescue Story Infinite Storm Offers Brutal but Authentic Character Study

On the heels of what was effectively a one-woman show in the school shooting drama The Desperate Hour, star Naomi Watts returns with another film clearly shot during the pandemic but under wildly different circumstances. Infinite Storm tells the true story of Pam Bales (Watts), who ascended New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington just as a massive snowstorm was approaching. As an experienced climber, Bales knew when the best time was to turn around and head home. But after an unfortunate accident that delayed her journey and, more importantly, the unexpected discovery of a stranded and nearly dead man (Billy Howle) on the trail, wearing clothes not made for the storm, only tennis shoes on his feet and with no supplies of his own, Bales is forced to use her search-and-rescue training to bring the man down safely while surviving brutal cold, severe winds, and ever-accumulating snow.

Directed by veteran Polish filmmaker Malgorzata Szumowska (Never Gonna Snow Again) and written by Joshua Rollins, Infinite Storm isn’t just a movie about surviving weather and other treacherous climbing conditions. As the pair descends the mountain, we gradually begin to learn about their lives before this encounter. She never learns his real name (she assigns him the name “John” just to have something to call him), but she does deduce that he was on the mountain hoping to die after a tragic loss. But through a series of flashbacks, we learn that Pam has some devastating losses of her own to deal with from years ago, ones from which she will likely never fully recover. In fact, the name of Ty Gagne’s 2010 New Hampshire Union Leader article that chronicled this rescue was “Footprints in the Snow Lead to an Emotional Rescue.” While Watts plays Pam as extremely mission-focused, she also allows the character to take time to remember and grieve when necessary.

Unlike just about any other film about a dramatic rescue such as this, Infinite Storm’s conclusion occurs a while after the rescue is concluded, with the investigation into who John actually was and why he vanished after making it safely down Mt. Washington. Thankfully, no one doubts Pam’s story; and though people want to know more about this man, he has little interest in sharing. The bulk of the movie is simply two people attempting to traverse some of the most dangerous terrain on the planet under the worst conditions of the season. The two don’t exactly bond in the traditional, feel-good sense, but once she convinces John that life is worth living, the two at least come together over the common goal of surviving this encounter.

I assume most of the weather we’re seeing here is real, with snow and wind added when necessary, but this one hurts your face and extremities as you witness his frostbite progress and her spirit dwindle. This is an absolutely brutal story captured beautifully and authentically. With supporting characters (played by the likes of Denis O’Hare, Parker Sawyers, and Eliot Sumner) sprinkled into early and late portions of the film, Infinite Storm surprised me by not devolving into heroic platitudes but instead keeping Pam human, someone who is experienced but not flawless, and determined not to let her suffering define or defeat her. This is a surprisingly strong work.

Infinite Storm is now playing in theaters.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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