If her 2021 films are any indication, actress Naomi Watts enjoys spending time in nature, facing challenging situations. In The Desperate Hour, she played a mom who finds out about a school shooting at her son’s school while on a run in the woods, forcing her into a long and anguished trek back to town. Now, in Infinite Storm, she spends a lot of time in the New Hampshire wilderness, with a heroic goal of keeping another man alive.
Watts plays Pam Bales, a real-life member of the Pemigewasset Valley Search & Rescue Team in New Hampshire. A woman with some life trauma that goes undefined for most of the film, she often goes hiking by herself in the Mount Washington area, mostly as a form of therapy.
On the particular winter day in the film, she sets out for a long hike knowing the weather might be bad at the top. She’s soon hiking through deep snow in a fierce winter storm when she notices footprints leading toward the top of a peak. There, she finds an almost catatonic man, whom she needs to convince to get off the mountain if either of them is going to survive.
Directed by Polish filmmaker Malgorzata Szumowska and written by first-time screenwriter Joshua Rollins, the film surprisingly does not take the route that most films of this ilk do. Although the film shows the various ups and downs Pam and the man, whom she calls John, experience during their trek, it doesn’t attempt to document every moment. Instead of milking every dangerous situation to amp up emotions, the filmmakers often fast forward past them, alluding to the risk but rarely staying with it for too long.
This storytelling choice does make things confusing at times, though. Certain scenes with Pam, some of which contain flashes of memories from earlier in her life, have the feel of hallucinations, making it unclear if she’s actually seeing what we’re shown. This is especially true in a couple of moments where the man gets further away from Pam than one would think someone rescuing a person would allow.
The film’s third act is also wholly unexpected, one that upends any predictions on how a film like this would normally end. Ultimately, the title of the film doesn’t refer to the conditions that Pam and John have to endure on their way down the mountain, but rather the fragile emotional state that each of them has endured at different points in their lives.
Points go to the cast and crew of the film for actually going out in the elements to make the snowbound story. Instead of relying on CGI or other ways of faking the extreme weather, filming was done in the Slovenian Alps. Not to take anything away from Watts or Billy Howle, who plays John, but a good portion of their acting work is done merely by being present in those conditions.
Watts hasn’t exactly taken a Liam Neeson turn, but if you put together these two films with 2012’s The Impossible, she’s kind of created a “one woman against the world” reputation. Despite being with another person for most of the film, Watts is almost solely responsible for the success of the film, as she drags John, herself, and the viewer to the finish line.
While it could have had a more powerful impact if the filmmakers had gone the “easy” route, Infinite Storm earns respect with its relatively light touch and old school filmmaking. After going through back-to-back trauma-filled films, Watts deserves a break, but it’s clear she excels when her characters’ lives are at their bleakest.
Infinite Storm opens in theaters on March 25.