Every year, at least one film is out to make you use up a whole box of tissues. Last year it was The Help, even though it didn’t actually earn any of them. This year’s hankie-film comes from the least expected — director J.A. Bayona and writer Sergio G. Sánchez, the duo behind one of the best horror films in years, The Orphanage. If ever a horror movie could make you get a case of the sniffles before the closing credits, it’s that one. So when you consider their new film, The Impossible, focuses on one family’s devastating story after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami which killed over 230,000 people, make sure you have the tissues handy. This is the true story of one family’s survival.
On December 24, 2004, Maria and Henry Bennett (Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor) arrive at the Orchid Beach Resort in Thailand with their three children — Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin), and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast). Snorkeling, playing in the sand, and relaxing by the pool are the name of the game for the Bennett’s until Dec. 26, when a tsunami engulfs the mainland turning the once serene beaches into pure devastation. Maria is swept away to find herself alone, hugging a tree. Spotting Lucas, the two struggle amidst the swirling water to find safety, even saving a toddler named Daniel (Johan Sundberg) along the way.
Maria, Lucas, and Daniel take refuge in a tree until some inland survivors find them and haul them away to a hospital with Maria on the brink of death. Henry finds himself alone and separated from Thomas and Simon whom he was with when the tsunami struck. Finding his way back to the hotel, he finds his boys safely at the hotel. Now Henry sends them off to safety but stays behind to find his lost wife and son. Meanwhile, back at the hospital, Lucas is dealing with his dying mother and keeps his cool by writing down survivor’s names, trying to help reunite family members amidst the chaos.
Bayona and Sánchez have crafted a doozey of epic proportions. From the opening shot, Bayona makes sure the ocean feels as ominous as possible for the first time since Jaws. And this is without the help of any music. Nothing adds to movie misery like a wound, and here we get the worst film injury I’ve seen since The Descent. While not overly graphic, it definitely results in giving your gag reflex a good workout. Another scene involving Maria coughing up something bloody and wet is reminiscent of a scene with Watts in The Ring and may make you think twice if you were considering making this a dinner and show type outing.
Yes, Bayona can’t help but resort to a few tried and true filmmaking gimmicks, but he’s also made sure we’re thoroughly invested in the family first and knows when to quit. Along with the masterful direction, the cast is superb with Watts and McGregor pulling no punches, and young Holland gives a true breakout performance surely finding him many roles to come. People may have thought Clint Eastwood’s tsunami in the beginning of Hereafter was jaw dropping, but audiences ain’t seen nothing yet. So while some films just like to simply put you through the wringer, The Impossible just may be the wringer and is one of the best films of 2012.
Photos courtesy Summit Entertainment