It begins with a disaster, a huge one witnessed not from a distance, not via the safety of a TV news report, but up close and personal.
The horror of the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 is made intimate, so awful that you recoil from the screen, ducking as tree limbs and shards of debris are hurled at you and the onscreen victims in “The Impossible.” The effect is akin to being stuffed into a washing machine filled with brown water and about 400 things that can poke, puncture, slice and lacerate you.
While you don’t drown.
Then, stripped, battered, injured and doomed to infection, you try to save yourself and then others. You look for help. You find yourself depending on the kindness of strangers, people who don’t speak your language who are suffering and lost, too, for your very survival. And having children in your care, you try to cling to your humanity as you all cling — barely — to life.
“The Impossible” is a vivid recreation of a disaster made moving by a stellar cast, a gripping, “How will this end?” script and all-too-real special effects and sets. You’ll feel you’re in that oceanic washing machine with Naomi Watts, grieve for her chances of survival and cry over the life lessons she struggles to pass on to her son (Tom Holland).
A Christmas vacation in Khao Lak, Thailand, turns terribly wrong for a family of five, headed by Maria (Watts) and Henry (Ewan McGregor) — English teachers living in Japan, enjoying the sun and surf until that December morning when the world was turned upside down and washed away within minutes.
Miraculously, they survive the tidal wave. But they’re separated — dad with two small boys of 5 and 7 years, mom with 12-year-old Lucas. We follow their stories, separately, each looking for and despairing of finding the other, each facing the awful reality that they may be the last members of their family.