Sometimes, the most devastating storms aren?t related to the weather.
Set in a small town in Tornado Alley, 13 Minutes follows four families who are struggling to deal with their numerous emotional burdens. From a young teen who discovers that she?s pregnant to an illegal immigrant who simply wants to work and a young man who?s sexuality causes conflict within his family, each relationship is strained by complex issues that threaten the fabric of the home. However, when a massive tornado appears on the horizon, everyone has a mere 13 minutes to find safety before it devastates their town. After the storm passes, the families must work together to rebuild both their shattered homes and their broken families.
Although 13 Minutes markets itself as a disaster film, it actually focuses more on lives and struggles of its the characters. Directed by Lindsay Gossling, there is a surprising level of emphasis on the people themselves, subverting our expectations of the genre. Whereas most films of this genre focus all their attention on special effects and destruction, this is really more of a story that speaks to the many challenges of those who live in America?s heartland than it is a theme park ride. (I?m looking at you, Twister.)
Having said this, in terms of the storm itself, the special effects are surprisingly solid, especially considering the film?s smaller budget. (Well, ?small? compared to, say, the latest Marvel film?) In consultation with real-life storm chaser Travis Farncombe (who also serves as one of the film?s executive producers), the tornado feels more authentic than other disaster films. Rather than make the carnage as brutal as possible, Farncombe and Gossling instead offer restraint for the sake of realism. In other words, while the storm still carries all the awe and terror expected from this type of film, it somehow doesn?t seem as over-indulgent as other entries into the genre.
This isn?t Twister. But, to its credit, it?s not trying to be.
Whereas Twister wanted to thrill the audience with the fun and destruction of its multiple storms (?I have to hang up. We got cows!?), 13 Minutes cares more about the lives and challenges of its characters. Slowly building over the course of its runtime, the storm itself isn?t the story here. Instead, 13 Minutes uses its storm to expose the flaws of its characters and, potentially, give them a chance to heal.
Splitting the narrative between multiple families, Gossling spreads her narrative attention around, giving her the opportunity to explore many different significant issues. Ranging from abortion, immigration policies, xenophobia, the farming crisis, homophobia and more, 13 Minutes seems keen to address as many social topics as possible. (In fact, if there?s a criticism of the film, it?s that it simply tries to address too many justice conversations, making exploring them with any depth very difficult to do.)
At the same time though, this use of multiple story arcs also allows the film to display the sheer breadth of conversations taking place within the area. This isn?t the story of one family but the journey of an entire town. Fueled by their own prejudices and preconceptions before it hits, the storm becomes the great equalizer. Regardless of their political leanings or family issues, the tornado threatens each one of their lives in the same way. As a result, while they fight to survive together, so too must these families re-examine their biases and struggles, leaving the question of what the world will look like when they rebuild.
Rather than rip them apart, this storm provides a chance to put them back together again.
Though its storytelling style will surprise many, 13 Minutes does manage to make an impact. Even though Gossling and Farncombe address a vast number of issues, the emphasis on the collective impact of the storm itself highlights the fact that the real storms of life need to be faced together so that we can rebuild properly before the next one hits.
To hear our interview with director Lindsay Gossling and producer Travis Farncombe, click here (YouTube) or here (audio)
13 Minutes is available in theatres on Friday, November 5th, 2021.