THE IMPOSSIBLE (2012, Juan Antonio Bayona): 5/10
A few jolts and creepy scares aside, I wasn’t all that engaged — or so I thought — watching THE ORPHANAGE, J.A. Bayona’s directorial debut. It had something to do with his lack of narrative skills, I think. But by the end, I was struck by a powerful melancholy feeling, a sustained sadness about a mother losing her son. It tapped into a fear of familial loss by using the horror genre to explore it. Nifty move, and I figured that if Bayona ever honed his storytelling skills, he might be the next Spielberg/Shyamalan/whatever.
Unfortunately, he’s gone backwards for his sophomore slumpfest. Several gorgeous images flicker on screen, and Bayona sure knows how to tug on a heartstring, but those tugs are crassly manipulative — at one point he uses a horror-movie score (shrieking, discordant strings) to tell us how scary a character’s illness is. He once again goes for the mother-losing-her-son fears, but this time sets it in a context that’s morally dubious at best: using a natural disaster that claimed the lives of countless thousands to show how a few white tourists got some cuts and bruises. And if this is based on a true story, why change the family’s nationality from Spanish to British? So they can speak in English and appeal to more audiences? Meh.
Bayona’s rhythms are instinctually sharp and he can certainly craft a suspense sequence (special attention should be paid to the sound effects editing in this film — it’s miraculous), but he really needs characters and dialogue to back him up. None of the dialogue here rings true at all; it’s way too movie-ish. And who gives a shit about this particular family, whose 20 minutes of establishing makes us want to leave them and find someone else to care about. Thankfully, the film is rescued to mediocrity by three extremely fine performances — most impressive of all is Tom Holland, a young boy asked to deliver countless scenes of harrowing fear, courageous resolve, and heartfelt emotion. Naomi Watts is reliably strong as Maria, and Ewan McGregor has a scene (where he finally attains a cell phone with which he can call home) that is so wrenching I couldn’t help but get choked up; it was the first and maybe only time in the film I was so genuinely moved that I felt like I was watching a real person, and not a cloying, awards-baiting work of schmaltz.