Naomi Watts gets wet for The Impossible

Compared to previous years when at least a couple of films had made an impression, this version of TIFF has been rather unremarkable. Granted, I only have seen a fraction of the total, but there is no “must see” buzz among critics and audiences. Consider the following misguided efforts:

Byzantium (United Kingdom): Nobody can deny director Neil Jordan’s storytelling skills. At his finest, Jordan can be thrilling (The Crying Game, Michael Collins). The last decade, however, hasn’t been kind with Jordan. No box-office successes or critical darlings to report. Perhaps that’s why the filmmaker returned to the genre that gave him the biggest triumph of his career, Interview with the Vampire.

Clara and Eleanor Webb (Gemma Arterton and Saorise Ronan) have a different approach to choose victims: Clara prays on the wicked, while Eleanor prefers those who are ready to face death (i.e. the elderly). The Webbs are on the run from elder vampires who believe they are an abomination. In their opinion, women are too emotional to make good bloodsuckers.

Along with the girls’ last stand, we are told about their making: Clara was a prostitute and Eleanor, an orphan. Their bleak present (courtesy of a dastardly Jonny Lee Miller) inspires Clara to commit the ultimate sin hoping for a new shot at life. Instead, it’s more of the same.

Byzantium is a very melancholic entry to the vampire canon. Even though the film can be affecting, there is little grit to be found: Jordan is too much of a craftsman to dispense cheap jolts. As stylish as the movie is, it will have a hard time finding an audience: Too adult for the Twilight hordes, exceedingly dull for the horror fans, and too silly for serious moviegoers: Two and a half blood-thirsty prairie dogs.

The Impossible (Spain/UK/US): If there is a common element to all disaster movies is that the plot is always terrible. Given that special effects have priority over the story, it doesn’t matter as much, unless you want some meat with your destruction. The Impossible is such a trite, manipulative movie about the tsunami in Thailand, it makes Earthquake look like a paradigm of subtlety.

Inspired by real events, The Impossible follows a too-cute-to-be-true family of five that separates when the sea hits the fan.  Naomi Watts loses chunks of flesh for over an hour while her husband (Ewan McGregor) makes stupid decisions like handing custody of their kids to some random stranger.

Even though the tsunami recreation is far better than the one in Clint Eastwood’ Hereafter, it fails to make an impression. Director Juan Antonio Bayona squanders all the good will generated by The Orphanage in a spectacle that seems engineered for American taste. The ending is Lord of the Rings-long and groan inducing (emerging from the water is like emerging from a coma, you see). The moral of the story: Tsunamis are poor movie subjects. One wet dog.

Random notes:

* The quality draught reaches even the documentary genre: The self-indulgent flick First Comes Love follows filmmaker Nina Davenport in her efforts to have a child at 41. The conflict: She is single!

* Eternity is a six-hour long Indian movie called Gangs of Wasseypur. Just when you think everybody is dead, someone else shows up to carry on.