Just before 1am on the morning of 26th December, 2004, the third largest earthquake ever recorded on a seismograph occurred off the western coast of Sumatra in Indonesia. It resulted in the deaths of 230,000 people in 14 countries and was one of the deadliest natural disasters in world history. Shot over a two-year period by the same production team that gave us Spanish horror The Orphanage, director Juan Antonio Bayona brings us The Impossible – a film that attempts to chart the true story of one family and their experience during this uniquely harrowing disaster.
Like many families around the world, Maria (Naomi Watts), Henry (Ewan McGregor) and their three boys wish to spend their Christmas in an idyllic resort on the Thai coast. After arriving at the hotel, the impending doom lies in wait as we are subjected to a close, middle-class British family (the real family were from Spain) blissfully unaware of the horrors that are waiting.
It’s a tense atmosphere and J A Bayona does well in getting to the arrival of the tsunami quickly. Although it may sound slightly macabre, this is when the film finds its legs. With the family now separated, Maria and her eldest son Lucas (Tom Holland) are chucked about violently as tonnes of water cascade over them. The underwater and helicopter viewpoints, coupled with the use of sound, paint a stark picture of the horrors the tsunami brought.
The Impossible separates itself from other disaster flicks such as The Day After Tomorrow or 2012 by doing away with unnecessary sound bites from non-characters and over-the-top CGI imagery. Instead, we stay with the family every step of the way, allowing the audience to feel the family’s despair as they desperately try and find each other.
It’s a solid performance from Watts and McGregor, however, this is marred slightly by eldest son Lucas who comes across a little stilted and out of his depth. Overlooking this, Bayona successfully portrays the human condition at its most desperate. The Impossible is a tense ride and is carried beautifully by its lead parts.
Watch the trailer for The Impossible here