It doesn’t really matter if you disagree with its politics or lose interest in the middling middle section: Juan Antonio Bayona’s disaster drama contains sequences that, once seen, can never be forgotten.
Based on the true story of the Bélon family, who were holidaying in Thailand when the 2004 tsunami struck, Bayona’s follow-up to his terrifying ghost story The Orphanage concerns a different kind of fear: that everything you love might be ripped from you in a single crashing moment.
Mum Naomi Watts (Oscar-nominated), dad Ewan McGregor and their three kids (all British even though it’s a Spanish production) are relaxing by the pool when all goes eerily still, the birds flee the trees, and a wall of sea washes everything away.
The film, like the family, then splits in two, with Watts and eldest son Tom Holland fighting to survive the deluge while McGregor and the little ones look for them in a world gone to watery hell.
Critics have attacked the film for focusing on a rich, white, remarkably lucky family at the expense of the Thai locals. (It’s possible that the extras, unavailable at press time, will throw some light on that decision.)
Yet it’s hard to see how viewers could focus on anything other than this family’s plight while the tsunami’s in full flow.
The effects look real, the performances feel genuine and Bayona’s direction places us – devastatingly – right in the centre of the storm