Published on June 6th, 2023 | by Robert Barry Francos0
The weather-related movie, Supercell is a 2023 film about a young boy who runs away to follow in the footsteps of his storm chasin’ poppa.
Natural disaster films are hardly new. The first I remember is Earthquake (1974), but it goes back at least until The Hurricane (1937), or arguably even Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928). In recent years, cheapie weather-related knockoffs have been prolific on cable. It is worth mentioning, and I certainly will not be the last, that the bar to beat, especially in the “wind” category, is Twister (1996). And rightfully so.
Another aspect worth mentioning is that there are occasions where an A or B-plus level actor will appear in an independent film, usually in a cameo or as a favor to someone associated with it. In the movie Supercell, there are three who are main characters: Alec Baldwin, Anne Heche (in her next-to-last film; d. 2022), and Skeet Ulrich. This is rare for an indie flick.
Tornado alley is where the film is situated, such as Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas; the former has recorded more tornados than anywhere else in the country (it was actually filmed in Montana). The often-sweaty high schooler William Brody (Daniel Diemer) has lost his storm-chaser/scientist father, Bill (Richard Gunn), to a cyclone. But the big Bill has passed down his fascination with the storms to his young’n.
Much like Dorothy, the weather reader thingamabob from Twister, here there is a machine in a nascent stage made by Bill that can read the possibility of tornados by soundwaves that William now works on. That is when he is not hanging out with love interest, Harper (Jordan Kristine Seamón).
William wants to understand about tornados and about what it meant to his dad, much to the chagrin of Quinn (Heche), his scientific genius mom who now makes a living cleaning other people’s houses. He takes off solo and phoneless in search of Oz…I mean wild weather. In this day of climate change, it is a topical – er – topic. He goes to see “Uncle” Roy (Ghostface himself, Ulrich) who drives for a bus tour to see tornados that uses the Brody name that was bought out during bankruptcy when big Bill was blowin’ in the wind. It is run and led by the antagonist of the piece, Zane (Alec Baldwin) – as in “inzane” – who is more interested in the bucks of his passengers than their safety.
Let me address this for a second: the women in this film (Quinn and Harper) are reasonable and level-headed, when it comes to the danger level, but the men (e.g., Bill, Will, Roy and Zane) are like the videos on social media of macho ubersports proponents who risk their lives for a thrill (and perhaps some clicks).
Naturally, Quinn and Harper set off to find the testosterone-filled tornado chasers, thus bonding (road trip!!) going from Florida to the west. Wait, so Quinn moved William away from the Tornados after his father’s death to Hurricaneville? Hmm.
With a ton of exposition that fills the first act, the wind…I mean the pace does not pick up until about half way through, when the first tornado for William comes into the picture while on the tour bus. You know each tornado experienced is going to get more and more intense, cinematically, as is the paradigm. Again, an observation, not a criticism. Building up is the way it is supposed to be, otherwise it would be anticlimactic.
There are some nice cinematic touches, like never seeing Bill’s face other than family photos, or going from a storm to watching clothes going around a washing machine. Another is Quinn asking Harper “Have you ever been to Kansas, Dorothy?” as Harper has twin ponytails. There are some cool Easter eggs, as well, such as William looking up Bill on the computer, and for just a brief second, Bill Paxton’s (d. 2017) name comes up in the search engine.
The soundtrack is – and really should be for this type of topic – orchestrated and swelling, when need be, especially reflective of the weather situated on-screen. It is lush and beautiful, like a rainstorm.
Baldwin and Heche share no scenes together, but they did in an earlier film, The Juror (1996). While Baldwin is arguably the biggest current star here, and Diemer is the central character, it is Ulrich who steals the film with his complex reading of Roy, who is torn by past occurrences and taking care of the son of the person he most admired.
There are a lot of Twister moments, such as one with a car van (though no cows), but at least no one shouts, “It’s here!!” I will say that the CGI is better, and the storms look more realistic, as they slash through the countryside. While I found the survivability in Twister a bit unrealistic, here is it more real feeling, even though the excitement level is a bit less. Do not get me wrong, there is lots of relatively scary weather moments, and it is beautiful to watch. My only real issue with the film is its length. There are lots of exposition moments that could have been edited down and still arrived at the required destination. I get the feeling it is so the star power have their own monologues and scenes. Again, understandable.
If you like big storms, like me (though I have zero interest in storm chasing any more than, say, paragliding), there is a lot to like about this: adrenaline, rain, hail, and fast paced weather.