Film Review by The African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA)
On the day after Christmas in 2004, a magnitude 9.3 earthquake, the third largest ever measured on the Richter scale, triggered a mammoth tsunami in the Indian Ocean which cost a quarter million people their lives. Thanks to the ubiquity of surveillance and cell phone cameras, the world was able to witness much of the tragedy, including tidal waves crashing ashore and creeping deep inland before sweeping humans, cars and everything else in its path back out to sea.
Maria (Naomi Watts) and Henry Belon (Ewan McGregor), a married couple from Spain, had the misfortune to be vacationing in Thailand with their three sons (Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast) that fateful day. Because they had rented a ground level cottage at a luxurious beachfront resort, they were engulfed by water and separated from each other the moment disaster struck.
The family’s ensuing ordeal is the subject of The Impossible, a harrowing tale of survival directed by Juan Antonia Bayona (The Orphanage). The Belons’ nationality has admittedly been changed from Spanish to British for the sake of the film, but one can only assume that the rest of their terrifying experience has been accurately recreated here.
The film opens with a relatively serene tableau covering their uneventful, Christmas Eve flight to Khao Lak as well as their subsequent celebration of the holiday opening presents and snorkeling. Of course, that deceptively idyllic setup is just the quiet before the storm.
When the tsunami hits the following morning, their hotel is engulfed, and from that point forward the picture is presented primarily from Maria’s point of view. We first witness her clinging to a palm tree, and then saving eldest son Lucas (Holland).
The kid eventually escorts his profusely bleeding mother through the chaos to a makeshift hospital for some urgently-needed medical attention. While she teeters between life and death, Lucas perambulates the devastated region for any sign, living or dead, of his missing father and siblings.
Did they make it? Sorry, far be it from this critic to spoil the resolution of any edge-of-your-seat thriller, even if based on actual events.
Forget National Lampoon, this flick chronicles the real vacation from Hell!
Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for brief nudity, disturbing images and intense disaster sequences
In English and Thai with subtitles
Running time: 114 minutes
Distributor: Summit Entertainment