13 Minutes is director Lindsay Gossling’s first film, about a fictional “largest tornado on record”. It is also a movie that made me scream, and not in excitement or surprise. This is a flawed film filled with flawed people and you are forced to watch their lives for more than FIFTY MINUTES before there is even a hint of a tornado on screen.
What is the plot of 13 Minutes? That these four assorted families go about their lives, generally being racist, sexist, or otherwise just kind of unpleasant, then a tornado hits and the town is levelled. The biggest problem is that we barely know anything about any of these people because the film crams in so many different families and none of them have any time to develop.
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You have the Mexican couple who are just trying to scrape by while hiding the fact that one of them is in the country illegally; you have the Christian farming couple whose son is still in the closet about being gay; the nice middle class family with their deaf daughter; and the single mom where it’s hinted that she’s an alcoholic and her kid is pregnant and considering an abortion.
So. Fifty minutes of horrible people generally being kind of horrible, then we have ten minutes or so of build-up to the moment the shit finally hits the fan. The actual honest-to-god disaster portion of this film is over and done with in right around five minutes. Five whole minutes of a tornado doing its thing. You know, the thing that people go to disaster movies to see.
What then follows is forty minutes or so of people running around the ruins of their town looking for their assorted family members and I simply cannot bring myself to care about more than maybe one or two of them. The soundtrack by Ariel Marx is doing all the heavy lifting in this part of the movie, trying so very hard to make us care. The problem being that sometimes the film veers straight into the mawkish. There’s no subtlety anywhere on display. We are treated to lots of lingering shots of people wandering through the devastation while sad string music plays.
Oh look, there’s a kid’s bike helmet in the rubble. There’s a poor little teddy bear. There’s a homely picture you saw hanging in a kitchen earlier… YOU WILL FEEL SAD NOW, HUMAN VIEWER. There’s even a brief callback to a sign shown earlier on in the film which is all messed up and now reads ‘The Finger of God’, because did you see the tornado? Did you? It was only on screen for less than five minutes so if you went to the bathroom you might have missed it.
The marketing blurb bills this as an “edge-of-your-seat disaster thriller” but the only thing that had me sitting on the edge of my seat was my desperate urge to get up and watch a more interesting film than this. It also claims to have “jaw-dropping visual effects” but honestly the tornado effects from Twister carry more emotional weight than the brief glimpses we get of the tornado here.
Even the whole conceit of the title is wasted. Supposedly 13 minutes is how long the townsfolk have to find shelter from this deadly tornado but it doesn’t factor into events on screen at all. Nobody in the film even mentions this number out loud. The tornado alarm is sounded at 55 minutes in and we see the tornado for the first time at the 63 minute mark by which point pretty much everyone is in a shelter. 8 minutes. You didn’t even try, movie. You could at LEAST have dragged it out to the 13 minute mark.
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It’s been a while since a film made me this angry, since a film made me feel like I was lied to, like my time was wasted, like its story has all the wrong messages. The ultimate moral of this film seems to be “bad shit happens to good people” and that’s it. There’s no humanity overcoming adversity, no pulling together in the face of the disaster.
The horrible homophobic people are still horrible and homophobic even after the town’s been destroyed. Nothing changes, nobody learns or grows (except maybe the son, but frankly even that rings utterly hollow given the way he’s acted for most of the film) and the credits roll with nothing being learned. The only lesson I learned was that I should have watched something else. Maybe Sharknado.