J. A. Bayona’s follow up to his 2007 breakthrough hit The Orphanage is, it’s fair to say, not what people were expecting to see from the director. Thankfully The Impossible shows that Bayona’s talents extend further than the horror genre.
Set during the 2004 tsunami that devastated Thailand, the film focuses on a British family who are caught up in the disaster whilst on holiday. Films depicting real life tragedies tread a thin line between exploitation of the event and a genuine desire to represent the facts and raise awareness. It’s testament to the film’s quality that The Impossible gets the balance just about right.
With the recent dependance on CG effects it is to the film’s credit that Bayona has opted for practical effects where ever possible. As a result the scenes of the tsunami hitting the coast look fantastic, terrifying and awe inspiring in equal measure. It should act as a lesson to other film makers that scenes of this scale can be shot without CG and look a damn sight better for it.
The underwater scenes also stand out and are genuinely difficult to watch – you can almost feel skin tear and wood snap. These scenes could have been plucked from a horror film and this really adds to the impact that the film achieves.
All the cast are fantastic. Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor are utterly convincing as a grieving mother and father desperate to bring their family back together. Credit to the young cast as well, good child actors can still prove hard to find but with the children in this film their performances are on par with the better known senior cast.
If there is a criticism to be leveled at the film, it’s that the focus is perhaps a little askew. The film seems more concerned with the effect the tsunami had on one wealthy western family. It would have been a more well rounded portrayal of events if some thought had been given to highlighting the plight of the native people who had their entire lives and homes destroyed by the disaster.
** Spoiler Warning**
The ending may prove difficult to swallow for some, although it’s based on a true story so there isn’t much room for manoeuvre. It would have delivered a more satisfying pay off if the family had perhaps stayed to help the other survivors rather than flying out on a chartered private jet to safety.
Overall, despite a couple of flaws, The Impossible is a fantastic film that has real heart. It packs a tremendous emotional punch and is visually stunning throughout. It also marks Bayona as a man to watch – with The Orphanage and now this under his belt, expect great things.