A surprisingly lackadaisical and narrowly focused historical drama from Dutch helmer Ben Sombogaart.

There’s more than a finger missing in the dike in “The Storm,” a surprisingly lackadaisical and narrowly focused historical drama from Dutch helmer Ben Sombogaart. The 1953 North Sea flood that killed hundreds is a mere backdrop to the story of a shellshocked woman’s search for her lost tot in the inundated provinces. With little context and, because of the protag’s mental state, no character development, the pic is reduced to an extremely wet game of hide-and-seek. First feature on the national tragedy has stormed local wickets but will be more of a tempest in a teapot abroad.

The North Sea flood of Jan. 31, 1953, occurred when the combination of a spring tide and a monstrous European windstorm caused many dikes along the Dutch coast to break. Enormous quantities of icy seawater poured into the Low Countries and killed more than 1,800 people, especially in the conservative province of Zealand. More than 70,000 had to be evacuated.

Pic wastes no time as it opens on the night of the disaster and gets the storm and subsequent deluge out of the way in the first 20 minutes. Young Julia (Sylvia Hoeks), whose fatherless baby is the talk of the town, heads for the attic of the family farm with her kid and her closest of kin. In an unconvincing sequence, the building breaks in two and her relatives disappear in the waves.

After suffering through several warm-hued flashbacks, shellshocked Julia tucks her baby into a wooden chest for safety. In one of several moments so wacky they were probably inspired by real events, a dead cow floats past and gets entangled in the rope Julia has used to secure herself, forcing her out of the attic. The next morning, dashing rescuer Aldo (Barry Atsma) fishes her out of the water that has submerged almost the entire province.

With still more than an hour on the clock, the pic’s flimsy excuse for a story is Julia’s desire to be reunited with her baby, a quest for which she quickly recruits Aldo. But Julia’s oscillation between hysterics and unnatural calm doesn’t make for interesting viewing, and Hoeks’ mechanical, cold-blooded perf is no help.

Sombogaart’s last few films (“Twin Sisters,” “Crusade in Jeans”) have featured important historical events, large casts and sprawling narratives, but his latest feels small, linear and shallow. The locals Julia and Aldo encounter on their search are a bunch of rednecks only one step removed from caricature.

For their first feature screenplay, thesps-turned-writers Rik Launspach and Marjolein Beumer liberally pilfer from Sombogaart’s previous “Bride Flight,” which had a finale that relied on the same plot mechanics as “Storm” but was far more resonant.

Vet production designer Hubert Pouille’s interiors are extremely austere, but his flooded outdoor locations (shot in Belgium) are impressive. Other tech credits are OK.

The Storm

Netherlands

Production

A Universal Pictures Intl. Netherlands release of a Universal Pictures, Focus Features presentation of a Nijenhuis & de Levita Film & TV production, in association with NCRV. Produced by Alain de Levita, Johan Nijenhuis. Executive producers, Ronald Versteeg, Joris van Wijk. Co-producer, Gemma Derksen. Directed by Ben Sombogaart. Screenplay, Rik Launspach, Marjolein Beumer.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Piotr Kukla; editor, Herman P. Koets; music, Fons Merkies; production designer, Hubert Pouille; costume designer, Linda Bolgers; sound (Dolby Digital), Erik Langhout, Jos ten Klooster; special effects, Hecticprojex; assistant director, Anielle Webster; casting, Marina Wijn. Reviewed at Netherlands Film Festival, Utrecht, Netherlands, Sept. 29, 2009. Running time: 96 MIN.

With

Sylvia Hoeks, Barry Atsma, Dirk Roofthooft, Katja Herbers, Lottie Hellingman, Bas Keijzer, Monic Hendrickx, Evert de Jager.

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