Supercell (2023)

A surprising glimpse into the psychology, and obsession, of storm chasers

Still of Daniel Diemer and Skeet Ulrich in ‘Supercell’ (2023)

Daniel Diemer and Skeet Ulrich in ‘Supercell’ (2023)

Synopsis

You can be excused for making assumptions. It’s a story about stormchasers on the hunt for whopper tornadoes. The trailer is full of dramatic wind sequences, complete with whooping and terror. And that brings to mind that very watchable 1996 movie, Twister. A similar challenge lies at the core of Supercell: building a gadget that can help predict a storm’s trajectory. Even the posters look similar.

You’re tempted to reach for that word: ripoff.

But not so fast. Supercell digs deep into the psychology of the chasers. How they start, what keeps them going, how it leads to an addiction. You might learn maybe a smidge more about the mechanics of the twisters themselves. That makes Supercell a better story but a far less entertaining movie.

Like Twister, it begins when our main character is a youngster, this time on a West Texas night when his storm-chasing father won’t listen to his scientist-turned-stay-at-home-mom as she implores him over the phone to take a safer route away. It ends as you expect: the father dies in the storm.

Ten years later, the son, William Brody (Daniel Diemer), is your typical rebellious teen, now transplanted to Florida. He’s trying to reconstruct the device that his father was trying to perfect. He gets some help in the mail: his dad’s old journal with notes that could just be key to finishing the contraption. So he makes a getaway to his West Texas home, where he tracks down his “uncle” Roy (Skeet Ulrich), who was one of his father’s partners.

But all is not as he expected. He finds out that his father, though a local legend in the storm chasing community, was running a storm chasing tour business when he couldn’t get financial backing for his research. On the night of his death, two of his clients died as well.

Former partner Zane (Alec Baldwin) has taken over the business, and Roy is just an employee. William still hitches a ride on a storm-chasing tour, while back home in Florida mom Quinn (Anne Heche) and girlfriend Harper (Jordan Kristine Seamón) are high-tailing their way west to fetch him back home before he meets the same fate as his father.

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If you want another movie like Twister, this isn’t it. Virtually no humor, for one thing. The acting is uniformly OK but nothing remarkable (luckily Baldwin is only slightly over the top in his cowboy hat and unconvincing Texas drawl). There’s no competition among the storm chasers, merely boring camaraderie.

But if other reviewers are saying this is a ripoff of Twister, they just weren’t paying attention or they were too lazy to look beyond first impressions. It’s true: the special storm effects aren’t enthralling. But … that’s the point. Supercell, despite the name, is not about the heroics of storm chasing. The storm sequences aren’t exaggerated and once they get close everything seems authentically chaotic and details are nearly impossible to discern. It’s actually the views from afar that are memorable and beautiful.

Supercell also tries to educate you a bit more on the physics of these monster storms, though that bit falls short of memorable. But the truly effective explanation belongs to Heche, who describes how the storm chasers become hooked. The get close at first, and then they get the feeling that’s not enough, and they must get closer, and closer. Like the junkie that needs a stronger fix with each shot.

Don’t misunderstand. I love Twister. It’s one of a few movies we rewatch routinely just for fun. As much as I’ve said about Supercell, it isn’t as good a movie overall, with acting, direction, and dialog that is just OK. But if you want a more grounded and realistic look at the storm chaser mentality, give it a whirl.

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