Juan Antonio Bayona’s second film after the hugely successful ‘The Orphanage’ (07) focuses on the true story of one family facing the full brunt of the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. The real hotel and pool that the family were playing around when the waves hit were used for filming, with the ground floor residences rebuilt just for the shoot. It gives a very memorable impression of the terror and brutality of the event – not just of the initial impact and the subsequent powerful waves but also of the underwater, deadly collisions with all sorts of debris. In conveying this, and the general scope of the disaster within the confines of their geographical area, the film is very successful, just as it is in displaying a troubling sense of realism in the injuries incurred and the sicknesses that followed them.
However, rather than telling a gritty and accurate tale, ‘The Impossible’ has gone for a slightly more Hollywood style of story, despite the fact it’s a Spanish film. It is very much a case of ‘if this were in the movies, this would happen’, and even though we’re witnessing an interpretation of real events it’s filmed in such a way that it seems a little contrived and thus a little off given the tremendous death toll the tsunami took. Nor is there any mention of the geopolitical real life issues surrounding the catastrophe, such as the universal lack of any kind of warning for the poor souls that died during the event.
The older child in the family, played by Tom Holland, simply does not convince as someone experiencing the events as reality, rather he comes across as someone enjoying all the action and occasionally in need of a good slap. He is a central character and that together with the general feel of the whole, and the poor choice of title, hollows out the film. The two younger brothers are much more convincing, and both Ewan Mcgregor and Naomi Watts are very good as the parents. Watts is up for an Oscar for her role, perhaps aided by the fact she is terrified of water and yet was plucky enough to take on the challenges of being smashed around by torrents of the stuff. Not, I imagine, the most pleasant shoot she’s ever had.