The problem with most disaster movies these days is they present their horrific scenarios with nothing but stock characters who end up spouting annoying clichés aided by a weak screenplay. While they have amazing special effects at their disposal, they are saddled with a conventional story filled with people we can never truly relate to, and they bend the rules of science in a way that’s shameless as filmmakers believe we won’t question what we see. But we do question what we see, and what ends up on the screen ends up being far more laughable than thrilling.
That’s what makes the Norwegian thriller “The Wave” so refreshingly effective as it has down to earth characters we can relate to, and it also deals with science in a way which is not insulting to the intelligence. The movie doesn’t break any new ground in the disaster genre, but the filmmakers still leave us on the edge of our seats throughout as they present us with a scenario which could very well happen before I finish writing this review.
The movie starts off with a documentary sequence which shows how parts of Norway, while stunning in their beauty, are always susceptible to collapse and utter catastrophe. This country saw one of its town decimated by a rock-slide tsunami back in 1934, and there was another massive tsunami in 1905 which killed 65 people. Scientists all agree this catastrophe will very likely happen again but they don’t know when, and this sequence hovers the rest of “The Wave” as we go into it knowing this beautiful Norwegian will soon be laid waste.
Kristoffer Joner stars as Kristian, a geologist who has worked in the small Norwegian village of Geiranger for the past few years and is about to start a new job at an oil company. His family is in the process of vacating their home to move to a new apartment in the big city, but on his last day at work he sees the substrata is shifting and things don’t feel right to him. But when he presents his concerns to his co-workers, they are not quick to alert the village’s inhabitants as they don’t see much of a threat based on the evidence at hand. Plus, the tourism season is at its peak and this town, just like Amity in “Jaws,” depends on this season to meet their financial obligations.
Watching “The Wave” reminded me of when I saw Roland Emmerich’s “The Day After Tomorrow.” While Emmerich’s movie was never boring, it’s take on science was hard to accept especially when the characters tried to outrun a weather freeze which immobilizes everything in its path. But the filmmakers of “The Wave” are not about to insult our intelligence and present us with scientifically sound facts, and that makes watching this movie all the more intense and anxiety-inducing as a result.
Going into this movie we all know that this town will be utterly destroyed, but the buildup to the inevitable catastrophe is worth it as, when it does hit, it leaves us as trapped as the characters as they desperately try to reach safety. Kristian is not out to be a hero as he warns others as he tries outrun the tsunami that will eventually wreak havoc on the defenseless village. Joner does an excellent job of giving us a protagonist who is an ordinary guy who recognizes the dangers this village will eventually fall victim to, and the reaction he has when a flock of birds flies away in anticipation of the massive rockslide tsunami is priceless.
Joner also has a family which includes his wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp), his daughter Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande) who is fascinated by the world at large, and his son Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) who is NOT looking forward to being uprooted from his hometown even if his dad got a better job than the one he had. These are all people we understand and whose struggles we can easily relate to, and that makes this motion picture even more intense as we don’t feel like we’re watching characters; we’re watching real people.
As for the wave of the movie’s title, it is a CGI creation which is rendered very effectively. Seeing it demolish everything in its path feels more terrifying than anything shown in “San Andreas.” Seeing the townspeople flee to higher ground as it approaches is anxiety-inducing as we know not everyone will escape its wrath. Some disaster movies throw a barrage of visual effects at us to where we don’t feel like we’re watching a real disaster unfold, but that’s not the case here.
Sure, the story is predictable as Joner is determined to find his wife and son who get trapped in the post-tsunami devastation, and the movie’s ending is no surprise at all. But thanks to the attention on character as much as spectacle, this is a disaster movie Hollywood can really learn a lot from. Don’t let the subtitles turn you off because this is an especially intense disaster movie which will have your heart racing.
Copyright Ben Kenber 2016