With modern disaster films, the laws of physics are often ignored in favor of action spectacle, focus placed on grand scale feats of cinematic experience, as opposed to thought provoking commentary about nature. Last year’s San Andreas made waves at the box office, as Dwayne Johnson ascended tsunami’s on speedboats and flew helicopters through shattering skyscrapers, in turn typifying the mindless bombastic escapism movies of this ilk tend to be. The Wave (Norwegian: Bølgen)takes a more grounded approach, centring itself between grandeur and realism to create a balanced, entertaining thriller with solemnity. Director Roar Uthaug has mainstream accessibility in mind, adhering to procedural genre tropes without ever straying off course. However, the believability of the characters and the non-exaggerated treatment of the power of Mother Nature sets The Wave apart from other recent disaster epics.
The Scenic mountain community of Geiranger is a popular tourist destination enjoying another prosperous year, as holidaymakers have travelled from far and wide to appreciate the splendour of its snow-capped mountains and mighty fjord. Geologist Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) is seeing out his final days on the job before he and his family move away to bigger and better things. But suspicious activity emerging from the mountains indicates an imminent avalanche, which will result in rocks tumbling in the fjord, causing a towering tsunami that will devastate the village putting their plans on hold. When suspicions are confirmed, it’s too late for a safe evacuation, the townsfolk only have a matter of minutes to reach higher ground before the wave comes crashing down.
The Wave is Norwegian cinema’s first foray into the disaster genre and has already enjoyed box office success there in 2015. Inspired by real life incidents where native towns were crushed by tsunamis in the 20th Century, Uthaug has crafted a film that pays homage to Hollywood fare, yet serves as a reminder that Mother Nature can be an unpredictable, wrathful force of destruction. It attains a balance of environmental preaching and intense, riveting thrills that get the heart racing. There is only one major disaster scene to be found, but the aftermath presents constant arduous and dangerous challenges for our protagonists to overcome; portraying both sexes in an equal, capable light when it comes to efficient survival skills and selfless heroics.
Each performer tackles their roles with aplomb, with Kristoffer Joner and Ane Dal Torp leading the charge with admirable conviction. They have believable chemistry together as a married couple, but it’s Torp who impresses the most as wife Idun, in a Jill of all trades role that sees her take charge of duties ranging from plumbing to saving her family from a watery burial. She’s the glue that pieces it all together, and it’s a performance of the highest calibre.
The film scores extra points through its visual eye candy, with lush cinematography and the captivating Geiranger picturesque backdrop ensuring there’s always beauty to be marvelled at; those who lose their lives during the film’s tragic events couldn’t have chosen a prettier place to die, even if their main reason for being there was peace and tranquillity. Looking at it from that point-of-view, one may find some gallows humor in The Wave.
Despite carving a nice niche, placing itself in common middle ground between respectable and spectacle, The Wave is still too by-the-book to truly soar. It’s still a case of the familiar and generic, albeit well executed and impressive. It’s a tour de force of visceral excitement, with ample intellectual stimulation in regards to the conflict between nature versus man – and technology to an extent. However, it still treads carefully on ground that’s been explored often; as Norway’s first disaster movie, it could have been a trailblazer, rather than an imitator.
By employing a simplistic, “less is more’’ approach to a genre that often revels in absurdity, The Wave is a welcome change of pace. While it never takes so much as a detour from the tried and tested formula, that’s proven to be successful countless times in the past, it manages to stand out through edge-of-your-seat extravaganza that doesn’t require you to leave logic at the door. However, by not taking risks, Uthaug has possibly prevented a very good movie from being a truly great one. That being said, it will satisfy the audience it’s intended for and resonate well with the masses outside of its homeland.
The Wave opens in theaters March 4th