Written by: Matt Patti | October 27th, 2021
13 Minutes (Lindsay Gossling, 2021) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Not so much the thriller it’s advertised to be but a quality film nonetheless, 13 Minutes works more as a small-town drama than a disaster movie. The film’s title comes from the amount of time residents have to get to shelter once a tornado is spotted: only 13 minutes. However, the film’s focus for much of the runtime is more on the town itself, and its residents, than the storm. This is to the film’s benefit, though, as authentic, intimate stories are told and the lives of four separate families are explored to compelling effect. The tornado may take a back seat to the characters, but it works.
In the little heartland town of Minninnewah (which means whirlwind in Cheyenne), it is a sunny day and business as usual for four families. Ana (Paz Vega, Chasing Wonders), a Latinx immigrant, goes to her low-income job as a hotel housekeeper while her husband Carlos (Yancey Arias), 100 Days to Live) goes to work on a farm owned by Rick (country star Trace Adkins). Meanwhile, a pregnant young woman, Maddy (Sofia Vassilieva, The Little Things), struggling with deciding whether or not to keep her child, gets called to babysit a young deaf girl, Peyton (Shaylee Mansfield, Feel the Beat). Peyton’s father, Brad (Peter Facinelli, Catch the Bullet), is the town’s weatherman and is in for a long shift with many storms on the horizon. Brad’s wife and Peyton’s mother, Kim (Amy Smart, The Brawler), goes off to her work in community outreach to attempt to spread the word about the severe weather coming. Each of these characters and many more interact and cross each other’s paths in a desperate fight to get to safety when an F5 tornado is spotted 13 minutes away.
13 Minutes takes its time to deeply explore our main characters and lay the groundwork for conflicts before disaster strikes. In my opinion, the strongest section of the film—the “calm before the storm”—is not so calm, with tensions brewing between certain folks and the inhabitants facing difficult decisions. The audience gets to empathize with these characters and their specific struggles and situations as they go about their everyday lives before the tornado approaches. Director Lindsay Gossling (making her feature debut) expertly weaves each character’s journey so that they cross paths with the other main characters in the film, and it is quite compelling to uncover which townspeople are related to whom and what roles they play in each other’s stories.
All of the actors give grounded, believable performances. There are no standouts, though, and that is not a negative thing. Each cast member plays their role perfectly and functions as a specific member of the town. Gossling does a masterful job giving each character a fair amount of screen time, and they seem to all have very important roles, making for a perfectly balanced cast of characters. These townsfolk make very clever choices in order to keep themselves and others safe, even when at odds with some of the other residents. However, the film also does a great job showing the dark side of these situations. It sheds a harsh light on those selfish people who, instead of coming together to help their neighbors during a tragedy, remain greedy and only do whatever it takes for themselves to survive.
Once the tornado does strike, which comes about halfway through the runtime, the film reaches its peak in drama and intensity … but afterward, it loses momentum a bit. The tornado only lasts a very short amount of time and is a small fraction of the movie, which may disappoint many viewers expecting a natural-disaster thriller. The focus then shifts to the aftermath. Unfortunately, some incredible survivals seem too improbable to be realistic and there are some very convenient coincidences that save many characters, whereas perhaps an emotional death would have had a better effect. Much of the aforementioned tension is lost, replaced by the new conflict of finding missing people, which is less compelling than the original sticky situations the characters were dealing with, but still serviceable enough and creating some suspense. Though the conclusion doesn’t quite match up to the first half, it still provides satisfying-enough conclusions to the many engaging stories started at the beginning. In the end, 13 Minutes shows us how most people in a small town can come together and put aside individual differences in order to help their fellow citizens survive in times of imminent danger and beyond.