Exactly what happened to one Spanish family during the tsunami which hit the Thai coastline on St. Stephen’s Day, 2004 is brought to the screen with staggering intensity in this extraordinary celluloid achievement. Director J.A. Bayona showed promise with his previous horror offering The Orphanage, but here the Spaniard outdoes Hollywood’s finest in a film which marries almost-overwhelming spectacle with intelligent storytelling and an abiding humanity.
Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor deliver finely detailed performances as the parents separated in the chaotic aftermath, yet much of the dramatic onus is placed on newcomer Tom Holland, the eldest son who shows there’s more to him than the spoiled adolescent in the earliest scenes. Although not blind to the scale of the suffering and devastation, Bayona makes a wise decision to keep the focus on a single family unit, so the lessons of resilience, trust and hope emerge directly from their daunting experiences on that fateful day. Incredibly, we’re with them every step of the way. (Notes by Trevor Johnston.)