A British family holidaying on the Thai coast when the Indian Ocean tsunami struck on Boxing Day 2004 are swept away by the churning waters never expecting to see one another again. Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts play the frantic parents determined to save their children in Spanish director JA Barona's emotionally harrowing chronicle of a natural disaster which - in Thailand alone - left 5,000 people dead and more than 2,800 missing.
Juan Antonio Bayona
The Orphanage director JA Barona deals in a different sort of horror in this wrenching account of the lethal tsunami which struck the Thai coast at Christmas 2004.
Wealthy British couple Maria and Henry (Watts and McGregor) are enjoying the festivities at their tropical beach-side hotel with their son Lucas (Holland) and his two younger brothers.
Their idyll is shattered when a vast wall of black water crashes down on the pool where they are playing, tossing everyone into a boiling maelstrom where branches, rocks and beach furniture are all potentially lethal weapons.
Maria is carried off by the seething mass but manages to spot Lucas and the pair of them somehow manage to reach one another and wade out of the deep water and into a waterlogged field.
However, Maria has been badly injured after a jagged branch impaled her leg and they have the added responsibility of a small boy they find weeping in a pile of washed-up debris.
Unbeknown to them a bedraggled Henry and his two younger sons have miraculously survived...but he has opted to stay at their wrecked resort to try and find his missing wife and son.
This is a viewing experience akin to being put through an emotional grinder with Maria and Lucas's watery plight shockingly rendered as Barona convincingly conveys the utter terror of being helplessly swept past falling trees, telegraph poles and bobbing cars.
He demonstrates a Spielbergian knack for tempering the juggernaut action sequences with simple moments of human empathy - the lost little boy reaching out to stroke Maria's hair.
Handwringing miseries will whine about the choice of swapping the true-life Spanish family with the more mass cinema-friendly Brits but this isn't really the point. On the plus side, the selfless heroics of ordinary Thais - from villagers to hospital staff - is respectfully acknowledged.
Even if the final reel comes across as a little trite, what's gone before is some of most emotionally devastating cinema you will see all year.