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Infinite Storm Suffers From an Identity Crisis


Among disaster movies, those that involve mountain climbers are often the most harrowing. Maybe it’s the combination of high altitude, exposure to the elements, and the physical strain of moving along something so imposing and vast. Climber confidence could be another factor: they dominate nature … until they do not. Films about them include scenes where—even at peak performance (pun intended)—we see the physical toll required before the endeavor inevitably takes a turn for the worse. The best climbing disaster films, such as the documentary Touching the Void, are intense and suspenseful enough to approach horror. Infinite Storm, the latest entry in this subgenre, at first attempts to continue in that tradition. In the hands of director Małgorzata Szumowska, New Hampshire’s Mount Washington is formidable and oppressive, but then the focus shifts the hero’s incomplete personal growth.

The opening passages are typical—an opportunity to familiarize the audience with the climber’s skill and resolve. Naomi Watts plays Pam Bales, a woman who goes through many routines before climbing begins. She lays out all her gear on a table, double checking it can account for every possible contingency. She leaves multiple copies of her itinerary, including on the windshield of her car just in case the worst befalls her. A man at a camping lodge (Denis O’Hare) hassles Pam because a storm might be brewing. She tolerates it because at least he now knows what she has planned for the day.

Ignoring the man and any suggested caution from weather reports—Mount Washington is known for its erratic weather—she soon finds herself in harsh conditions. She falls into a mini-crevasse, but keeps her wits about her as she manages to crawl out. The real test comes later, when she sees footsteps in the snow. That is alarming enough on its own, but they’re not just any footprints: They belong to sneakers. She correctly realizes someone else is on the mountain, and they’re wholly unprepared for its challenges.

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