Within the cinematic medium, the ‘disaster film’ is often a target of mockery/parody and deemed an ideal opportunity for Hollywood to plough big budgets into blockbuster effects. Stories saturated in truth however, can ever so often have their ‘nuances’ accentuated bordering on emotional manipulation. Taking such an aspect into account, it will be a relief for many to discover that this particular film has escaped the grasp of many studio bigwigs. Left in the capable hands of J.A. Bayona who marked his debut with Spanish horror ‘The Orphanage’ back in 2007, he tackles the inenviable task of depicting one of the most harrowing human tragedies in recent memory.
Boxing Day 2004. Exchanging the obligatory cold for the colour and sights of Thailand for Christmas, ‘The Impossible’ harnesses its focus on one particular family headed up by married couple Maria and Henry (Ewan Mcgregor and Naomi Watts). With their trio of sons in tow (Tom Holland’s Lucas the generously aged one of the clan), a harmless swimming pool get-together at their swanky hotel soon escalates into a harrowing and well documented experience.
Literally shaken and almost paralysed as their gorgeous surroundings slowly succumb to the unforgiving beast that is ‘nature’, relentless tidal waves batter the region leaving its inhabitants powerless. Of the family in question, Watt’s Maria is the most ravaged by the ordeal only remotely hinting at the unfortunately high scale of human loss. A comfort may present itself in finding her beloved Lucas amongst the wreckage, but the mental as well as physical struggle is ever present as toegther they frantically pursue their fellow loved ones.
The hardened cynics amongst you may question the convenience of switching the nationality of its protagonists (originally Spanish), to perhaps accomodate A list talents. However, the performances here are near faultless almost prompting forgiveness for Bayona’s preference. Watts and Mcgregor thoroughly convince as they collectively drive home the emotional impact and the guilt ridden psychological ramifications of survival. A worthy mention for Holland’s Lucas also who so easily could have wilted under the pressure of such a demanding role, instead demonstrating remarkable maturity.
From a pure cinematic perspective, ‘The Impossible’ does occasionally waver as the film shifts more frantically between plot ‘fragments’ in the latter stages whilst falling foul to the occasional cliche. Bayona’s direction and storytelling is undoubtedly at its strongest within the first hour, with the mid-shot setup of the disaster likely to prompt gasps as he executes the emotionally devastating set-piece with technical efficiency. The simplistic yet engaging dynamic between Lucas/Maria at its core for such an extended period of time is handled with such grace and sentiment, the middle section cutting away from them feels less assured and ‘diluted’ as a result.
Tiny gripes aside, The Impossible is a sensitively handled and powerful piece of filmmaking that bristles with overwhelming emotion and authenticity.