Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, The Impossible is based on one family’s real-life experience of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Hoping for a relaxing vacation in Thailand, Maria (Naomi Watts), Henry (Ewan McGregor), and their three sons, Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin), and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast), spend the morning of 26th December relaxing by the pool. But when a tsunami triggered by an Indian Ocean earthquake floods the area, the town and its people are left to face its overwhelming, destructive effects.
From the team responsible for the accomplished Spanish horror movie The Orphanage and based on actual events and on one of the worst natural disasters ever, The Impossible is a carefully researched account of one family’s sufferings, as we are told a story that is both terrifying and heart-achingly emotional. As an audience, we are immediately immersed in the shocking experience of this tsunami, making The Impossible a constantly tense and engaging film from the beginning.
However, I do also have to agree with the film’s main criticism, as it probably isn’t the best first story to tell about such a national disaster. What we must remember, though, is that it is still somebody’s story. More precisely, it is the story of María Belón and her family. The criticism comes from the fact that Belón was actually Spanish, however. With their story being transformed into an English-speaking one, designed for worldwide acceptance, and director Bayona commenting that he didn’t want to specify the nationalities of the main characters in order to create a universal film in which nationalities were irrelevant to the plot, it is almost disrespectful that the film focuses on a rich, white family, but I guess it has its reasons.
One thing for certain is that The Impossible is a brilliant piece of physical film-making. The special effects are stunning, especially the underwater scenes which are intensely gut-wrenching, as the director committed to working with real water rather than using computer-generated waves. This authentic feel compliments the film incredibly, with the tsunami itself being recreated with a mixture of digital effects and real water surges, using miniatures that were destroyed by a huge wave which was created in a massive water tank.
Using real water also his meant that many of the actors had to spend weeks filming physically and psychologically demanding scenes in this water tank, which also meant that the film’s performances benefited from this too. The performances are all incredibly strong, with Naomi Watts, especially, giving one of her best performances yet. It is through her and Tom Holland‘s on-screen relationship that provokes so much of an emotional response to the film, but you can really feel the connection between the whole family.
The Impossible may not be a masterpiece, but it is impressive for many reasons and most audiences will be moved by it in some way.
The Impossible was released on DVD on 6th May.