I feel like I owe a lot of people an apology right now. For years, I have fought as hard as I could against the term “torture porn.” I have written screeds all over the Internet explaining why this was a disparaging nomenclature with no basis in reality. I’ve broken down why it most certainly should not be derived from the first Saw film because that film took the Texas Chainsaw Massacre/convince the audience they saw things that were clearly edited out approach. I even went so far as to say I couldn’t think of a single torture porn film in existence because no horror film has ever been designed to make you feel good because people are being brutally killed.
It turns out I was wrong. The Impossible is not only the first mainstream torture porn film, it is the most widely acclaimed. After 20 minutes of watching the Bennett family get settled in for a Christmas vacation in Thailand, tragedy strikes. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami hits the hotel, literally ripping the family apart. Literally. As in flesh torn from bones and the family being separated.
We’re treated to a brutal, disgusting, over the top gore/action sequence where Naomi Watts (as mother Maria) and Tom Holland (as oldest son Lucas) are beaten by everything from fallen tree limbs to rusted metal cars. They bob up and down in the water for a good 20, 30 minutes while they’re impaled by branches and keep resurfacing with more cuts, bruises, and ripped off flesh each time. When the water settles, we get a lovingly framed shot of a bloated dead dog, followed by a clear shot of Naomi Watts with a giant chunk of flesh ripped out of her breast and her calf muscle on her one leg completely exposed; Tom Holland is covered in blood and has a nasty series of bruises corresponding to every vertebrae in his spine.
Then they enter the hospital where people are much worse off. People vomit up blood and scream out with arms that have an extra seven joints in them. Hospital staff try to pump blood and fluid out of people’s bodies and locals drag in corpses and severely injured bodies on ripped off doors and floorboards. Once Watts’ body starts to atrophy and fall apart on a slab, we jump to Ewan McGregor (as Henry, the father) who slowly rips a deep gash through both of his calves by stupidly falling through every loose structure in sight. He falls, he climbs back up, and rips his legs open another centimeter or two in a few steps.
This continues for another hour before the plot is quickly tied up with an all too convenient ending that’s meant to leave the audience hopeful for the future. If this family can survive this terrible ordeal, then maybe everyone else who managed to survive the tsunami can pick up the pieces and move on.
The Impossible is one of the most manipulative, cynical, and disgusting films I’ve ever had the misfortune of seeing on the big screen. It is the film people have been railing against for years with the torture porn straw man. It is a bloody disgusting mess that only exists to shock the audience with outrageous gore and then make them feel good for watching it.
The worst part of it all is that this gore is not even consistent. If a low budget horror film can remember that a character has a broken arm, why can’t a big budget special effects epic? Cuts shift from the right eye to the left eye within the same scene. Clothes are repaired and then torn apart worse with a simple shift of the camera. People who are carrying victims in magically switch places in under a second, including which victim is being carried in. You would think someone would be on set to make sure that all these oh so important details of death, destruction, and gore are consistently applied (at least to the principal cast). If there was such a crew person, they should never be put in this position again.
The Impossible‘s only minor saving grace is an amazing debut onscreen performance from the only lead in the film, Tom Holland. Watts and McGregor have a few key scenes to themselves, but Holland is the largest figure that connects the story together. He handles the task with a whole lot of skill and maturity that is otherwise lacking in this “slap blood on it and call it important” torture porn epic.
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