The Impossible

The Impossible

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

It's hard to forget the Boxing Day of 2004 when the news broke that a massive tsunami had swamped south-east Asia, killing 230,000 people in the process. It is also hard to wrap your head around the enormity of that figure - but it is more or less the equivalent of the entire populace of Aberdeen being wiped off the map.

In The Impossible, director Juan Antonio Bayona spins the focus in on a single family caught up in the disaster, personalising the horror and bringing it home in unashamedly melodramatic fashion on its very own tidal wave of emotion. This being big budget, the family upon whom the story is based has been miraculously transformed from Spanish to British - there's a lot of that about at the moment, if you consider Ben Affleck's portrayal of Latino American Tony Mendez in Argo - which though depressing, is hardly new.


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Bayona and scriptwriter Sergio G Sanchez have explored the depths of parental fear before in The Orphanage and here they use an onslaught of the natural rather than supernatural to generate a sense of panic and pain that is no less acute. Although beginning with some stilted dialogue between husband and wife Henry (Ewan McGregor) and Maria (Naomi Watts) as they settle in for a Christmas holiday with sons Thomas (Samuel Joslin), Simon (Oaklee Pendergast) and Lucas (Tom Holland) in a luxury Thai resort, once the action starts, the film becomes visceral and compelling. An ordinary day by the pool turns into an almost unimaginable nightmare as the wave hits. The family are tossed like toys by the might of the water, and in some of the best disaster special effects I can recall, we are taken with Maria as she is pulled along with the torrent, slashed, battered and crushed along the way by debris before being left in a landscape transformed from holiday heaven into an alien hell. If her pain is physical, it is nothing compared to the fear she feels as she hunts for the rest of her family. Henry, meanwhile, washed up elsewhere, also faces the terror of not knowing what has become of his brood.

This is not just the story of the parents, as Bayona, like Spielberg, knows when to use a child's eye view to devastating effect, and wastes no time in exploring the horror of the children - particularly eldest son Lucas, who tries to 'man' up for his injured mum. McGregor is better than he has been in years as the dad whose emotions have been left as wrecked as the hotel, while Watts brings a gut-wrenching intesity to Maria, as she tries to hold it together for her son in the face of her injuries. All the child actors, too, rise to the occasion with Holland, in particular, leaving a lasting impression.

License is almost certainly being taken to build up tension in the final act and there is manipulation at work here - but it's of the high-class sort that will have you reaching for your hanky even as you are aware your tear ducts have been primed.

Reviewed on: 02 Jan 2013
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A family's quiet Thailand holiday turns into a nightmare when a huge tsunami engulfs the grounds of their hotel.
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