Directed by: Roar Uthaug
Starring: Kristoffer Joner, Ane Dahl Torp
Just as he and his family are preparing to move away from the picturesque town of Gerainger, chief geologist Kristian Eikjord notices some anomalous siesmic readings from teh surrounding mourntains, leading him to believe that a landslide is imminent which will cause a 80 metre high tsunami. However he has difficulty making anyone believe his theories....
Roar Uthaug's The Wave takes the usual disaster movie template and manages to fashion something with more depth and nuance than we're used to seeing from such films.
The film is, admittedly, very formulaic - on his last day on the job, chief seismologist Kristian Eikjord, whose team of scientists monitor for miniscule movements within the local mountains which flank the deep fjord leading to the picturesque town of Geiranger, discovers an anomaly in the readings. And when he tries to convince his co-workers that a cataclysmic event is just about to occur, he's met with scepticism. If this were a Hollywood movie, this would be where a corporate suit tries to get rid of the evidence in the name of Big Business and Progress. And while there is a bit of that ("think of the tourists!") you can totally see their point of view: in their eyes, Kristian can't let go of the job he loves (he's already been painted as a meticulous micro-manager) and is jumping to conclusions with wild theories.
There are a number of things which separate The Wave from the Hollywood disaster movie. First and foremost is the fact that this scenario could actually happen - and has happened, in the past. The film opens with news footage showing the devastation a tidal wave caused to small townships in 1905, and the fact that the crevices in the mountains overlooking the fjord leading toGeiranger widen every year. This is an event just waiting to happen, which gives the film- at least the first half of it - something of a docudrama feel.
Secondly, the characters are more nuanced than you'd expect. Kristian (Kristoffer Joner, Norway's Kevin Bacon, recently seen in The Revenant) is one of those characters who would be considered an arsehole if it weren't for the fact that he's right. He's single-minded to a fault, even forgetting that he left his kids in the car while he goes out exploring his concerns about the mountain. Kristian is a bit of a dick when obsessed with a problem but he is also a loving husband and father, worried about the move to the big city and the effect it will have on his teenage son Sondre and daughter Julia. His wife, Idun, is shown to be the more practical-minded problem solver, fixing a leak under the kitchen sink whereas Kristian can't even locate the right wrench for the job.
Most modern disaster films are about the spectacle of the destruction. Iconic landmarks being blown to smithereens, or skyscrapers knocked down in slow motion, the very earth being ripped asunder by volcanic or seismic activity, while disaster movie protagonists struggle to survive and do heroics amidst the destruction. There's very little of that here, partly because the picturesque setting is devoid of man-made landmarks to destroy, but also because the film is more concerned with what happens immediately before and after the disaster strikes. The moment the sirens go off, and everyone in town realises they've got just ten minutes to get out of town, is a great tense moment. The Wave doesn't skimp on the money shots either, and a certain scene outside the hotel really drives home the sheer size of what the town is facing, and you get a real jolt of the raw, unforgiving nature of it all. There aren't going to be any heroic derring do here, as the disaster will smash through in an instant.
The film then has to deal with Kristian's search for Idun and Sondre (split up before the disaster for plot reasons) and their continuing struggle to survive in the aftermath. There is a definite feeling of deflation in this section, as if we're all spent after the orgasmic flood. Despite this, the situation Idun and Sondre find themselves in is pretty terrifying and again shows just how strong spirited Idun (Ane Dahl Torp, Dead Snow) is in a crisis and what she's willing to do to survive. It doesn't help matters that the film chooses to bring out a whole other bunch of disaster movie cliches to round off the story, tugging on your heartstrings for all its worth.
The setting for this film is stunning, and it could be argued that all cinematographer John Christian Rosenlund had to do was turn up and switch his camera on, but he and director Roar Uthaug do a great job of capturing the natural beauty of the countryside, turning the fjord with its immense sides into a character in its own right, and the concept of nature destroying itself is somehow more unsettling than when it destroys what we have built.
Roar Uthaug hit the horror scene a few years back with the excellent slasher film, Fritt Vilt (Cold Prey - you even get a snippet of the film playing on one of the scientist's laptop), a film which paid the same level of detail to its characters as does The Wave. Interestingly, Roar has been handed the mantle to direct the next Tomb Raider film with Alicia Vikander, and if Roar can hold on tight to his ideals then that film will certainly be worth watching.
While The Wave follows the usual genre tropes, it delivers a very high calibre version of them. The tension is palpable, especially when the siren sounds. As with his previous films, Roar Uthaug makes sure that you care about the characters.
7 out of 10 (MikeOutWest)