Reviews

'The Impossible' May Be 2012's Most Misunderstood Horror Masterpiece

J. A. Bayona gained worldwide notoriety with The Orphanage, a Spanish gothic horror film that failed in every way that The Impossible succeeds.


The Impossible

Director: J.A. Bayona
Cast: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland
Distributor: Lionsgate
Rated: R
Release date: 2013-04-23

From Jaws and The Exorcist all the way to the slasher flicks of the ‘80s, all horror films have had one element in common: they are essentially films about survival. Whether it’s people trying to make it through the night with a serial killer on the lam, or entire societies trying to make it after nature or the supernatural have unleashed a plague on them, the horror genre is ultimately about how much we must endure in order to prove we are creatures who crave life. This is why it’s slightly surprising to revisit the critical reception to The Impossible and realize that almost nobody dared to call it a genre picture.

Regardless of what the sappy trailer, the touchy subject matter and the Oscar nominated performances made you think, The Impossible is as much a heartwarming family drama as The Sound of Music is a film about Nazis, essentially both films grabbed a peripheral story and used it to exploit the particularities of their genre, both with wonderful results.

The film, directed by J.A. Bayona opens inside a plane where we meet Maria (Naomi Watts), her husband Henry (Ewan McGregor) and their children Lucas, Thomas and Simon (played by Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast respectively). The family is on its way to Thailand to celebrate their Christmas holiday in what they think will be paradise, little would they know that just a few days later, they would find themselves in the middle of one of the deadliest tsunamis in recorded history.

The Impossible, like any other horror picture, takes no time to throw its characters into the eye of chaos, as just a few scenes after the opening we find Maria and Lucas trying to swim towards each other as corpses, cars and trees float past them. Bayona, a masterful creator of suspense and action, leaves us no time to even wonder what happened to the other family members, for all our attention is set on whether Maria and Lucas will be able to make it.

We follow them, in shock, exhausted and staggering, through muddy fields and across desolate roads, while Maria, badly wounded and with torn flesh hanging from her chest and legs, tries to remain strong for her son. When the film begins, the plot sets forward a dynamic between them that the whole film seems to center on, but surprisingly The Impossible presents us with several axis, none of which undermine the prominence or importance of the others.

After a while we indeed discover that Henry and his youngest children are alive as well (hence, that which is seemingly impossible) and they will spend the rest of the film trying to reunite. Given that when the film starts we learn that this is “based on a true story”, we can take for granted the fact that there must be some sort of happy ending for these characters. At least one of them must have survived in order to tell their story. This doesn’t mean that the film fails in creating pure suspense and terror, given that at every moment we suspect that we’ll see one of the lead characters meet a gruesome demise.

Bayona gained worldwide notoriety with The Orphanage, a Spanish gothic horror film that failed in every way that The Impossible succeeds. While the former allowed the conventions of the genre to determine the course of its plot, the latter smartly discovers that a great genre picture can be discovered in almost every possible event, without allowing it to lose its essence. In both films, Bayona centers on a very strong female character, more specifically a mother, who tries at all costs to protect her offspring.

In The Impossible, the director was lucky enough to have cast the always underrated Watts, who turns in a performance for the ages. She gives in to the physicality of the role, without forgetting that there must also be a human core to the destruction surrounding her body. She spends most of the story covered in mud and blood and traumatic environments that vividly transmits to us her physical and emotional pain. Indeed, as she hovers between the world of the living and the dead, her visage, now literally grey, is positively zombie-like. Yet the human within is still seen deep in her bruised, bloodshot eyes. Even unable to speak, the actress communicates so much love, fear and just pure emotion with her eyes that we don’t need words to understand what she’s going through. This is a performance that breaks the heart, as much as it inspires, especially because of the way in which she allows herself to go into the confines of darkness (it’s no coincidence that she’s reading Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness when the film begins).

The Impossible was also showered with senseless accusations of whitewashing, with some suggesting that it devoted itself to the suffering of a Caucasian family in the midst of an event that resulted in the demise of thousands of Asians. To defend the film from these accusations feels somewhat insulting, but it must be done. For starters, we have got to acknowledge that films cannot be about everything. Does anyone condemn Casablanca for not being narrated from the Moroccan point of view? Has anyone ever complained that Gone with the Wind should’ve been seen through the point of view of the slaves? To a less racially inclined observation, is there anything inherently wrong with the fact that The Godfather isn’t told from Kay’s point of view?

Films, and art in general, are all told from a subjective viewpoint. Therefore to accuse this film of being "too white", is the equivalent of accusing Hispanic productions of not being white enough. As long as there are racial issues, there will always be someone on the losing side.

Yet the truth is that in no way does Bayona ever suggest that these people are more important than locals. Poignantly, Lucas (Tom Holland), first portrayed as a typical self-absorbed teenager, undergoes an enormous coming of age 'ritual', if you will, as the man he will become -- compassionate, aware of others, and thoughtful -- manifests in the acts of a selfless boy.

In fact, using the cleverly subdued bookends, we come to realize that the event is an eye opener for this family. The very last shot featuring Watts, contains such indescribable horror that perfectly encapsulates all the issues of white guilt, racial injustice and social inequity that a more “educational” film would’ve ever contained. Even during the tsunami sequences and during every other scene afterwards, Bayona’s camera never shies away from showing us the horrors being endured by other people, regardless of their race.

If a story of survival of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in Thailand, told from a local’s point of view, would’ve been better than the story we have here, we’ll only know once said film is made. Meanwhile, The Impossible should be appreciated for its remarkable sense of suspense, its powerful performances and for being one of the smartest horror films in recent history; one that's made even scarier because it touches our heart and makes it so vulnerable, that even watching the film we feel scared of how our lives will end.

The Blu-ray presentation is impeccable, to call this film beautiful sounds strange, but its use of light, camera movements and editing actually make it aesthetically pleasing. The transfer is fantastic and the sound mix makes you feel as if you’re living the events yourself. The amount of bonus features is limited to a featurette about the casting (everyone is in love with Tom Holland!) and one about the visual effects which proves to be informative and quite surprising. Overall this is one of the most essential films from 2012, and certainly one of the most misunderstood.

9

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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