Director Herbert James Winterstern takes a swing at the disaster genre (sort of) in his feature film directorial debut “Supercell”. As you can probably tell by the not-so-cryptic title, it’s a killer storm movie set in North Texas and the Midwest. That’s prime territory for a movie like this. Unfortunately the storm-chasing in this modestly budgeted feature never amps up the excitement the way it needs to. And the human drama (though well-intended) isn’t strong enough carry us through.
Winterstern knows his way around filmmaking, having worked as a producer, writer, editor, cinematographer, and in a number of other behind the scenes technical roles. Here he directs from a script he co-wrote with Anna Elizabeth James. Their story attempts to meld straight-up genre thrills with a rather tepid family drama. There’s certainly some heart behind certain characters and you can almost sense a Spielbergian influence in how Winterstern and James handle one teenage boy’s journey. If only the performances had the same voltage as the massive CGI storm cells looming over the plains.
“Supercell” features an interesting supporting cast. First is Skeet Ulrich (“Scream”) who has been popping up in several films lately. It’s good to see. Then you have Alec Baldwin who is currently embroiled in a legal battle following a fatal on-set accident while shooting the movie “Rust”. And there’s Anne Heche, appearing in one of the late actress’ final roles.
The lead is Canadian actor Daniel Diemer who plays Will Brody, the son of renowned storm-chaser Bill Brody. Ten years ago his father was killed chasing a massive tornado near Wichita Falls, Texas. Since then, Will has been raised by his struggling mother Quinn (Heche). She once worked side-by-side with her late husband studying storms. After moving to Florida and filing bankruptcy, she now works cleaning houses to provide for her son.
Lately Will has taken an interest in his father’s work, but Quinn is quick to discourage him. She wants Will to go to college. “It’s your way out, ” she reasons, fearing he’ll meet the same fate as his father. But one day Will receives an old journal in the mail that belonged to his dad. Ignoring his mother’s wishes, Will sneaks off and follows the return address to the Texas home of his uncle Roy (Ulrich).
Once a studier of storms himself, the embittered Roy now drives for a storm-chasing tour line (are those really a thing???) owned by the surly Zane Rogers (Baldwin). An angry Quinn gets word that her son is with Roy and heads to Texas with Will’s soon-to-be girlfriend (Jordan Kristine Seamón) in tow. But wouldn’t you know it, the mother of all storms is brewing which manages to bring all the parties together in its dangerous path for a predictable and rather hammy climax.
It’s hard to watch the movie and not see it as a low-budget take on “Twister” (there’s actually a terrific nod to that 1996 film and Bill Paxton that’s easy to miss). But to Winterstern’s credit he does a lot with the resources he has. There are some stunning wide angle shots showing off the ominous clouds building up across the horizons. And we get a couple of nail-biting moments of pure intensity, the best taking place during a brutal hail storm. Winterstern puts us inside Roy’s van as three-inch hail beats it to a pulp. His shooting and cutting of the scene is top-notch.
But too much of the story is handcuffed by predictability, contrivances, and some shaky character work. Ulrich is a nice fit for Roy, although the character could use more depth. Much the same, Baldwin gives a solid performance. But his character was all over the map and (especially in the final third) never made sense to me. Heche struggles and it’s hard to put a finger on why. Quinn in pretty straightforward, but Heche often feels out-of-sync. And poor Seamón is reserved to being a tag-along with no real story of her own.
There are a few other issues that bring the movie down a bit (getting off to a slow start, composer Corey Wallace’s dramatic yet overbearing score, etc.). But I do appreciate the movie’s attempt at making something other that digitalized disaster porn. While they aren’t quite realized the way they need to be, the characters are the centerpiece. Diemer is a sturdy enough lead and gives the movie a good anchor. But there’s only so much weight he can carry. Ultimately we’re left wanting more, both from the human drama and the computer enhanced storms. “Supercell” is now showing in select theaters and on VOD.
From your description it is a weak formula that doesn’t taste very good 😉 Will skip it.
Yep. Unfortunately it doesn’t bring much new to the table.
I’ll skip it too, it’s been done better.
Yep. It has.
Well that’s a shame as Anne Heche does have her moments as an actress when being in the right film and in the right role. I’m pissed she got dissed at the Oscars.
Sad sad story. She certainly did have her moments.
🟣 I’m skip it 💤 🟣
Thanks for the review and saving me some time. I’ve not seen many disaster movies lately that weren’t disasters (sorry). The exception being ones out of China and Korea.
They do make some good ones. This one isn’t terrible. It isn’t good either. I do appreciate what it is going for, especially on a meager budget.
The storm scenes were mostly very good. I thought Ulrich and Seamón did good with their roles and script. Baldwin WAY overacted, and the character’s choices and comments often were erratic. Heche has done better, but she still brought the tense conflict needed. But overall, I just wasn’t vested. I wasn’t drawn in. I didn’t care about the characters. Watch for the storms, not the human drama.
Yep, there’s a good effort to make the characters the centerpiece. But like you, I had a tough time investing in them.
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