Friday, December 21, 2012
The Impossible - Scariest Time at the Movies
If you've been to the movies in the last couple of months chances are you've seen the trailer for The Impossible. You know pretty people on vacation, the tsunami hits, nature at its worst, tears, screaming. The most manipulative sentimental crap ever. It dared me not to tear up. Forget about that; the actual movie is very good, and while I cried many times it was not manipulative at all but rather a sobering horror story about the dark side of nature and human connection and survival.
The film tells the true story of one European family of five during the 2004 Tsunami in Thailand. They are British in the movie although Spanish in real life, as is the director J A Bayona (The Orphanage). The set up from the family plane trip to Thailand until the waves hit is intense and scary using horror genre techniques to get you on edge of your seat. Bayona builds up the tension using every trick in the book; the plane turbulence, the distant rumbling sounds of the waves - all serve as ominous signs for the horrors we are about to see. The immediate aftermath is also depicted effectively particularly the confusion, panic and disoreintation and the very horrific loneliness of separated people against nature.
Bayona has several tricks up his sleeve to keep us entertained and scared. There is a thrilling set up piece in the hospital as the separated family members search for each other. Another is a subplot about a young lost boy found by the family that pays off in a major way both emotionally and as an engrossing plot device.
Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor play the parents and Tom Holland is the oldest son. All three dig deep to expose how fragile we all are in the face of nature. Watts' character suffers the most both physically and emotionally. The physical part was very hard to look at; her body is battered, bruised and purple all over. However she is magnificent at portraying pain, anguish, resilience and utter and complete fear without resorting to sentimentality. I was mesmerized whenever she was on screen.
McGregor gives a fully emotional performance;only a hardened soul would not be moved by his break down scene. It is particularly effective because men are never really given a chance to get this emotional in movies. If George Clooney almost won an Oscar for one lousy tear in The Descendants, McGregor should get some hardware for this performance too.
Holland acts the audience surrogate and we are with him every step of the way. And what a harrowing journey it is. But it's also a very human experience as we watch the young man mature and understand what's important in life.
Some people may have issue with the movie concentrating on one family's story when the devastation was all consuming. Particularly because said family is white. It's not an issue since the movie does not pretend to be anything but this one family's amazing story of survival. Yes there are millions of similar human stories that happened during the Tsunami and maybe one day we'll see some of them on screen. And if we are lucky maybe one will be from a Thai filmmaker.
The movie works because of the performances and the genre elements that keep the viewer engaged. Because this disaster was felt in every corner of the world, there might be expectations put on the movie to tell a grander story. It does not but what it tells is interesting and moving.