For years now I have been easily suckered in by Scandinavian films. From the fantastic and seldom talked about satirical drama How To Get Rid Of The Others from Denmark or Sweden’s Let The Right One In, I was hooked almost ten years ago. That love has continued as since we’ve had the Lisbeth Salander trilogy, Kon-Tiki, Force Majeure and this year has already given me another film I loved, Rams. As a metal head, I already love the music that comes out of these countries and now the movies have me locked in. I guess that was reason number one that The Wave interested me so much.
Secondarily, I read exactly what the film was about and I was massively intrigued. Any film surrounding Mother Nature throwing a huge hissy fit and exercising some of her bad ass rage is a big thing to take on and incredibly ambitious to try. It could come off well crafted with pulse pounding scenes of absolute peril or it could translate to screen as being a wholly corny and half baked ridiculous farce, looking like a rejected Roger Corman film. It’s a slippery slope and the only one that can pull off a terrible disaster film and have people give a loving smile at it is, well, only Roger himself. It’s not forgiven even if it comes from a foreign market.
The Wave roots it’s story in a bit of actual geological truth, as Norway is very prone to having devastating rock slides in their valleys, which in turn creates deadly tsunamis. Two real events were recorded in 1905 and 1934, the first one killing 60 people and the second destroying a town and killing 74 people. This film depicts the small Norwegian village of Geiranger, where our lead Kristian works his last day as a geologist who serves at the head of a team that surveys the seismic activity in the mountain pass of Åkneset.
Kristian’s life is in the flux of a massive shift itself as he’s given up his job in the small village for a cushy position in the big city working for a major oil company. His wife works at the nearby hotel, a fancy tourist trap, and his kids are reluctant to move out of their comfort zone, most notably their teenage son Sondre, who uses the move as a reason to shun his father. On the day the family is supposed to depart on the ferry to the city, Kristian notices something on the nearby rock formation that gives him reason to believe that there is going to be an imminent rockslide. It’s easy to say that he is absolutely right.
When we get these natural disaster films made by big American studios, at least in the last twenty years, the Hollywood gloss on them wrings any real feeling or uncontrived character development out of the film, making it feel like a bleached fantasy. As much as I dug Dante’s Peak years ago, the film fails to hold up upon rewatching and the same might be said for Jan de Bont’s Twister, another former favorite. I would argue that J.A. Bayona’s The Impossible might be the only passable Hollywood film in this genre. The Wave has a different and more realistic feel, but only until a certain point.
The tension the film builds in the first act is palpable and real, drawing you into the story as you look and wait for when everything is going to kick off. Things are tense for Kristian and his family and there’s a strain in the marriage. All of this becomes worse when Kristian’s perceived paranoia takes precedence over moving his family as planned but by this point the knowledge of imminent danger has replaced the more human tension as now we are waiting for that rock to drop. Then it does.
The whole sequence of the rockslide into the tsunami is a huge endorsement to see this film on the big screen. It is absolutely enthralling to see this water bubble up in vicious waves, almost with a malicious mind of it’s own, looking very much like a monstrous beast emerging from the depths. Many times did I think of Godzilla or Independence Day with giant crowds running away from a monolithic entity intent on destroying everything in it’s path. The film leaves you breathless for this whole sequence and then lets you down quite harshly.
From after the disaster through to the end of the film, besides a few scenes of well constructed peril, the originality begins to slowly leak from the film as contrived situations start to take place and a manipulative family message starts to rear its ugly head. Everything from here on out just becomes too easy as the story starts to step in post disaster movie cliche after cliche, leading to an ending that may make you regret the entire journey. The wrap up is just too clean cut and neat to be satisfying. This is where it should have taken some direction from a film like the before mentioned The Impossible.
The exhilarating action of seeing this small village decimated by a destructive and terrifying beauty is probably the biggest draw to The Wave, the handling of it might have been the catalyst for director Roar Uthaug getting the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot, but the inability to follow through with anything that matched the beginning set up of the movie. That being said, it’s rare to see destruction on this level that isn’t caused by aliens, Transformers, terrorist explosions or those dreaded Kaiju. For those reasons (and the great set up), The Wave is nowhere close to being a bust. I give it a three out of five.