Director J.A. Bayona's directorial debut was 2006's The Orphanage, a film that seemed like it was going to be a rote, by-the-numbers psychological horror film. It actually turned out to be one of the better horror films made in the last decade, with tons of style to spare. When I heard that his follow-up would be a chronicle of one family's survival in the wake of the tsunami that hit Southeast Asia in late 2004, I was eagerly anticipating what he would bring to the table. The Impossible proves that his first film was no fluke, and that Bayona is the real deal behind the camera.
The Impossible begins with a family arriving for Christmas vacation in Khao Lak, Thailand. Maria (Naomi Watts), Henry (Ewan McGregor) and their three sons are enjoying the tropical paradise, when seemingly out of nowhere, a gargantuan tsunami swallows up the entire area around their resort. Maria is swept away from the resort, but is soon reunited with her oldest son Lucas (Tom Holland) and they try to stay together and find help. Henry was not taken far from the resort, and finds the two youngest sons almost immediately.
Neither group knows if the other is alive, but Henry is determined to look for his wife and oldest son, sending the two younger sons up to safety in the mountains with a group of survivors. Lucas & Maria are taken to a hospital, as Maria must be treated immediately for some pretty gruesome injuries she sustained in the flood. Lucas bides his time waiting for his mother to recover by trying to reunite other survivors with their families.
First of all, I have to say that this film is unrelentingly brutal. For a PG-13 film, it has some truly harrowing moments that will test the fortitude of even the most stoic film goers. It doesn't spare any of the gory details, yet never feels exploitative. They probably dialed back what some of the actual injuries sustained would have been like, but beware, it is not for the faint of heart.
The film is also emotionally harrowing. It is an emotional rollercoaster, and anyone attending had better be prepared to have a good cry, particularly if you're a parent. It's a daunting film to sit through, and the two scenes where we see what happened to Maria in the current of the storm are as unsettling as any scene from a horror film. Bayona seemed like an unconventional choice for this sort of narrative, but his background in horror serves him well in depicting the sort of emotional & physical trauma inflicted upon these characters.
The performances are all very good. McGregor in particular shines in what is a supporting role, but the scene when he finally manages to call home and let his family overseas know that he and his sons are alive was especially raw and emotional. Watts & Holland do most of the heavy lifting, and the film spends the bulk of its time with them. Watts is outstanding, as always, but Holland shows that he is able to hold his own on screen, and ends up being the star of the film. He is a captivating young actor, and I look forward to seeing what he does in the future.
My biggest complaint with The Impossible is that it's just too emotionally brutal for me to ever want to watch it again. It's a draining two hours, and you'll feel utterly spent at the end of it, and none too eager to relive it any time soon. It's an important film, and deals with the reality of this situation in unsparing detail, I just don't see myself purchasing this film when it's released on blu-ray, nor do I see myself running back to the theater to see it again.
If you're in the mood for an extremely powerful and ultimately uplifting tale about the triumph of the human spirit, you could do a lot worse than The Impossible. It's excellently made and a truly visceral movie going experience, just don't expect to find yourself bounding out of the theater with a new lease on life. It will likely knock the wind out of you, which seems to be its main goal. We need movies like this in the world, I just don't know if I'd be able to handle ever seeing it again.
GO Rating: 3.5/5
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]