Today: April 24, 2024
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The Impossible

On December 26th 2004 most of us were recovering from over-indulging on Christmas Day with a well-earned leftover sandwich.

On December 26th 2004 most of us were
recovering from over-indulging on Christmas Day with a well-earned leftover
sandwich.
Until we turned on the TV to the news
that one of the biggest natural disasters in recorded history, The
Sumatra-Andaman Earthquake, had caused tsunamis up to 30-feet high to decimate
landmasses throughout the Indian Ocean.
The tsunamis killed more than 230,000 people in 14 countries. One of the worst-hit places was the
Thai coast where the events of The
Impossible
take place.

The film opens
with some of these facts but ends with the words “true story” emblazoned across
the screen. By the end of the film
you will be left mouth aghast with tears streaming down your face at the sheer horrors
that unfolded on that day and the ensuing months afterwards.

Henry (Ewan McGregor) and Maria (Naomi Watts) have travelled with their
three sons; eldest Lucas (Tom Holland),
middle son Thomas (Samuel Joslin)
and youngster Simon (Oaklee Pendergast),
to an exotic Thai resort to celebrate Christmas. Gathered around the pool on Boxing Day, the tsunami
strikes. Lucas and Maria find
themselves battered, bruised and fighting for their lives amid the torrential
water. Finally finding help, it
becomes clear Maria is in urgent need of medical care and must rely on Lucas’
headstrong ways to save her from the disaster. Meanwhile Henry desperately searches for his family,
refusing to let go of the possibility that they have survived.

The Impossible
should come with a very clear and concise warning; this film is NOT for the
fainthearted. From the opening
blackness you are bombarded with the imminent arrival of dread; a low rumble
building into a cacophony of sound so intimidating it warrants a sound design
Oscar all of its own. Yet it is
nothing more than a prelude of what is to come. When the tsunami hits, arriving on the horizon, obliterating
trees and buildings in its path like something out of a Godzilla film, it is with a visceral smash that will leave you
gasping for breath. We follow
Maria and Lucas as they are thrown into the horrors, being swept along by the
current, dragged under then ripped at by debris and detritus flowing all
around.

Just as Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan put us on the beaches of Normandy so director J.A. Bayona immerses us, to
stomach-churning effect, into the carnage of a tsunami. Bayona is best known for his
psychological horror The Orphanage
and, while not labelled as a horror, The Impossible is perhaps the most
terrifying piece of cinema this year.
It is a survival thriller of the highest order with such a battering level
of detail it makes 127 Hours look
like the literal walk in the park that it was. With every wave we witness Maria tossed around beneath the
surface like a ragdoll, the sound of crunching bone and tearing flesh will
haunt you for the duration of the film and long after.

And then the
water subsides and you cannot help but think the worst is over. But screenwriter Sergio G. Sanchez is not letting you off that easy. Indeed the narrative structure of the
film is so perfectly planned and injected with dramatic tension you find
yourself begging your deity of choice that something, anything, can pull these
characters through the apocalyptic landscape. In places it becomes a little over-wrought, trying just that
little too hard to pull on the heartstrings when the imagery that Bayona
conjures is more than enough to leave you reeling. While Maria is ailing in the hospital Lucas occupies himself
by helping others find their missing relatives; the young boy seemingly the
only person paying any heed to the healing power of hope. It is in these moments, rather than the
final act of ‘nearly misses’, that The Impossible will leave you devastated
with emotion. Witnessing a young
boy re-united with his father thanks to Lucas’ efforts is such a powerful image
you’ll struggle to suppress that meteor-like lump in your throat.

Without fail the
performances are awe-inspiring.
Ewan McGregor, always strong when allowed to keep his native accent, is
on career-best form. His everyman
performance before the disaster only highlighting his distraught devastation
after it. In one of the film’s
punchiest moments, he breaks down on the phone whilst calling relatives back
home to inform them of the situation, his utter helpless frustration shattering
him in such a way as you want to leap into the screen and wrap your arms around
him. Naomi Watts, at ease with a
British accent, excels, as always, in the role of Maria. With every step she takes through the
mud; bloody, bruised and looking like an extra from The Walking Dead, you feel every flinch of pain, every small
movement an effort akin to a marathon.
But she remains strong; the rock upon which Lucas’ strength is
founded. Particularly good is
young Tom Holland. Lucas is the
pivot upon which his parents rest at opposite ends of the spectrum. At moments possessing the conviction of
his father at others the caring and affectionate ways of his doctor
mother. Holland is nothing short
of a revelation for one so young.
Carrying the story for long durations of the film with a sense of
innocence reborn out of the devastation around him.

At this time of
year, prestige films jostle for place at the numerous award ceremonies just
around the corner. The Impossible
does not try and tell an epic story to manipulate the voters. Instead it tells a deeply intimate
story of one family’s struggle for survival against the odds and the wrath of
Mother Nature. Suffice to say that
the three leads of McGregor, Watts and Holland should all be recognised for
their efforts while Bayona’s staggering visuals should see him get
much-deserved recognition.

For some The
Impossible will be too much; a film that dunks you under the raging waters of a
disaster that we were only witness to via helicopter news footage and shaky
mobile phone moments. Here, it’s
in your face, choking you with filthy water, saturated in death and
destruction. It is a film that
demands attention for bringing to life a moment too easily forgotten. The Impossible is just that, a film and
story that by all accounts should not exist and yet, by some kind of miracle it
does.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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