Battered by debris and nearly drowned by the unrelenting walls of water, Maria manages to direct Lucas to help her and a young boy they've found get to the nearest hospital, which is in chaos from the natural disaster. Fearing she may soon die of infection, Maria distracts Lucas with the directive to go help others. Meanwhile, Henry frantically searches for Maria and Lucas, even at the risk of losing touch with the other two sons.
By Hollywood standards, The Impossible was made on a small budget. This forced Bayona to get creative with the recreation of the tsunami. The result is a harrowing 50 minutes not easily watched by the squeamish. The water comes fast, but Bayona's filming of Lucas and Maria, in particular, is drawn out and claustrophobic, helped along by sound effects that make you feel as if you're drowning. The editing successfully creates a point of view of inescapable confusion and pain. It's a brilliant example of smart, creative filmmaking that offers an experience more immersive than any recent 3D technology or altered frame rates.
I appreciate Sanchez's strict focus on a single family. The tsunami killed around 230,000 people and left thousands more displaced. It must have been difficult to rein in the urge to tell the larger story of this natural disaster or get preachy about climate change or even the negative aspects of economies based on tourism. It would have been easy to politicize the movie with empty gestures. However, the film seems to purposely ignore issues of race and privilege. It also causes some of its own problems, such as firmly establishing Maria as a doctor but not having her use much medical knowledge to help herself or others beyond one request for an antibiotic. And with each question unanswered and every hackneyed scene putting on a display of simplified or inauthentic human spirit, the drama built by careful visual and sound effects craftsmanship is minimized and the tension becomes diluted.