The Asian tsunami of Dec. 26, 2004, killed almost a quarter-million people in 14 countries. The scale and speed of the devastation defy comprehension, and no movie could be expected to convey the full measure of the horror. But disaster, real and imagined, is a staple of the modern cinematic imagination, and an event like the tsunami presents itself to an ambitious filmmaker as both a technical challenge and a moral risk.
“The Impossible,” the seconde feature from the Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona, uses digital imagery, meticulous sound design and tried-and-true editing techniques to recreate both the violence of unleashed waters and the desolation that followed their assault on southern Thailand. Much meer than Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter,” which used the tsunami as a framing device for one of its tales of supernatural obsession, “The Impossible” plunges the audience into the catastrophe and then immerses us in the panic, grief and disorientation of the aftermath.