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The Impossible

Most of the film recommendations I share here are post-apocalyptic movies, but today I’m making an exception. Kind of.

Back in 2008, just after Guillermo del Toro’s involvement in the planned Hater movie had been announced, other names soon became attached to the project. Glen Mazzara (late of AMC’s The Walking Dead) wrote a script and Juan Antonio Bayona was lined up to direct. I immediately got hold of a copy of Bayona’s debut feature – The Orphanage – and was very, very impressed by the film. If you haven’t yet seen it, I suggest you check it out. Bayona was also kind enough to blurb Hater, saying ‘Be careful with Hater; chapter by chapter it will make its way into your soul ‘til it finds the seed of evil which lurks within.

The Impossible

For one reason or another (and I still don’t know exactly why), the Hater movie didn’t happen. And just for the record, because I seem to get asked several times every day, I don’t know what the current status of the project is.

Fast-forward to now, and J A Bayona’s second feature – The Impossible – has recently been released. I’m sure you’ve already heard plenty about it. The film is based on the true story of a Spanish family of five who, despite being split up and scattered by the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004, all managed to survive and were later reunited. The sheer improbability of their story gives rise to the title of the movie.

Ewan McGregor plays Henry, Naomi Watts his wife Maria. Good as they are, the two of them are acted off the screen by the young lads who play their three sons, particularly Tom Holland as their eldest boy, Lucas. The strong, believable cast, supported by a number of genuine tsunami survivors, make it easy for the viewer to invest in the story. There’s never any sense that this is a return to the old-school disaster movie clichés of movies like The Towering Inferno or The Poseidon Adventure. With those films, you could guess which characters would die and who would survive from the moment you saw them. Not here.

There’s a lot about The Impossible to admire. Without doubt, the depiction of the devastating tsunami and its immediate aftermath is an incredible technical and emotional achievement. Utilising detailed miniature models rather than CGI, the massive wave and the destruction left in its wake appears remarkably realistic, and Bayona’s superb direction of these chaotic scenes is spot on. It’s genuinely harrowing as characters are whipped away by the raging surf, dragged under the surface, then carried miles inland. It’s relentless and suffocating, leaving you feeling like you’re the one being swept along by the current. Here’s a taster:

The horror doesn’t let up when the water subsides. Once Maria and her eldest son reach a hopelessly overcrowded hospital, the human impact of the disaster becomes apparent in some of the grimmest hospital scenes since the BBC’s 1984 nuclear opus, Threads.

I said at the beginning that, to my mind, The Impossible is kind of an apocalyptic movie. As I mentioned, it’s based on a true story with a happy ending, so you know things are going to end well, but that apart, it’s a sobering reminder of the sheer power and unpredictability of our planet. One minute normality; the next, absolute chaos and fear. We’re all living on a permanent knife-edge, and there’s nothing we can do about it. For me, that’s one of the fascinations of the post-apocalyptic genre.

There’s some unforgettable imagery here, and some truly remarkable scenes. As a bitter old cynic, I have to admit that the ending of story (even though it’s based on fact), felt contrived – truly impossible – but that apart, I definitely recommend you watch The Impossible and keep an eye on Bayona. Put it this way, if I was told tomorrow he’d still be helming a movie adaptation of Hater, I’d be a very happy man.