Infinite Storm tells the true life story of mountain climber Pam Bales, a seasoned hobbyist mountain climber who discovers and attempts to rescue a fellow outdoorsman from the elements as a major snow storm approached. In broad strokes, it’s not all that different from a great many survival stories we’ve seen before. It is in the specific beats where filmmakers Małgorzata Szumowska (In the Name Of) and Michał Englert elevate the conventional plot.
The film opens with Pam, played by the ever superb Naomi Watts (Mulholland Drive, King Kong), preparing for an excursion. The precision of the film’s opening shots mirrors the precision of the way Bales packs her gear. It’s a key character beat. Despite the clear emotional strife the woman is going through, she remains calm and deliberate about her process for climbing. I’d go one step further and say that too many survival movies feel the need to ratchet up tension as a result of easily avoidable errors made by ostensible professionals. I appreciate the way Infinite Storm focuses on an extremely well prepared climber’s battle against the elements.
A quick, sly character building interlude helps define the stakes though a lovely little scene with the always welcome Denis O’Hare (True Blood). Pam has a finite amount of time to complete her climb before weather becomes an issue and it’s quickly made clear she is climbing for some personal reason. Soon we learn, her trauma arises from loss in her family. Watts remains as spectacularly raw and open a performer as we have today. Her huge eyes and expressive face have a way of inviting a viewer into her emotional headspace. We’ve seen it throughout her career from films like 21 Grams to The Impossible – she conveys volumes without the need for dialogue. It’s an especially important skill in a film as minimalist in dialogue as this.
She’s also a gifted and daring physical performer. Much of the climbing in the film is depicted in long and medium shots which make clear that Watts is actually the one doing the work here. Long shots help establish the scope of the physical performance while the medium shots give focus to the intensity of Pam’s climbing prowess. I suspect the film’s budget is quite modest, but the filmmaking feels expansive with well deployed drone shots that help convey the majesty of the climb.
Eventually, the details of her loss are filled-in through flashbacks as her efforts to rescue a fellow climber – an apparently suicidal man rendered largely mute by the elements (Billy Howle, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) – come to the forefront. I was surprised how deeply the film’s emotional wind-down moved me. While I suspect Infinite Storm will be sadly forgotten by next awards season, Naomi Watts gives what will stand as one of the very best performances of the year.
Infinite Storm is in theaters today.