Mark Reviews Movies

The Wave (2016)

THE WAVE (2016)

2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Roar Uthaug

Cast: Kristoffer Joner, Ane Dahl Torp, Thomas Bo Larsen, Fridtjov Såheim, Jonas Hoff Oftebro, Arthur Berning, Laila Goody, Edith Haagenrud-Sande

MPAA Rating: R (for some language and disaster images)

Running Time: 1:44

Release Date: 3/4/16

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 3, 2016

Only one man can see that a landslide is inevitable, and that it will cause a massive tsunami that will wipe out the sleepy village 10 minutes after the rocks fall into the fjord. Nobody believes this man, of course, and the man in charge of keeping an eye on the stability of the mountain worries about causing a panic at the height of the village's tourist season. What would a false alarm do to the town's reputation as a tourist spot?

Surely they get American disaster movies in Norway, but maybe we should forgive the man who's worried about the tourist trade, because it's possible there isn't a movie theater in the village. Maybe he doesn't realize what a cliché he is in this context. Perhaps he doesn't realize that there is a set fate for the character who doubts the certainty of the hero.

Geiranger, the setting of The Wave, is a real place. In this village, the people actually do have to worry about a rockslide from a nearby mountain, which would cause a giant wave that would wipe out the place. Maybe it would be a good thing for the sanity of the locals if there wasn't a movie theater in Geiranger, because it's difficult to imagine anyone living there would feel safe after watching the movie's inevitable disaster strike.

As of late, those American disaster movies, which the characters here may not have seen (even though they probably could have avoided a lot of trouble if they had seen those movies), the disasters have become the stuff of obvious fiction—or at least statistically improbable worst-case scenarios. It's all about scale now. It's not enough that an earthquake strikes a city in California anymore. Nowadays, the entire state has to be threatened. A single tornado doesn't last long enough to sustain an entire movie's worth of devastation, so we end up with multiple ones of increasing severity.

To the credit of screenwriters Harald Rosenløw-Eeg and John Kåre Raake, as well as director Roar Uthaug, they stick to the reality of this scenario. The movie doesn't cheat, and it doesn't exaggerate, either. There is one wave, and it does, indeed, take 10 minutes for the violent waters to reach the village. Audience members who have been trained to expect the "bigger is better" mentality of modern disaster movies might be constantly expecting something more—a second wave, maybe, or, perhaps, a rockslide coming from another mountain in the area. By the standards of what we have come to expect, this is downright quaint.

That's a good thing, because the scenes featuring the wave are genuinely terrifying. Uthaug trusts that the nature of the thing is staggering enough. He follows the formation of the wave in a sequence of only two shots—one that takes an aerial view following the mountain avalanche to the water and another that watches straight on from afar as the water explodes from the impact, rising and slowly moving forward. Everything seems to be happening in slow motion, even in the few shots of the wave moving along the fjord in the dark as the village's population hurries to safety. We get a real sense of scale here—not the phony, trumped-up kind that comes with modern Hollywood disaster movies.

We also get exactly what we do expect from a movie like this. The plot follows Kristian (Kristoffer Joner), an employee at the nearby early warning station, who becomes convinced that a rockslide/tsunami is coming after noticing strange, unexplained readings on the monitors. He, his wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp), and their two children Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) and Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande) are preparing to move to the city.

Nobody believes Kristian, even after he shows physical evidence (sensors with torn wires) and charts from previous rockslides. A couple of employees check a crevice, and of course, are in it once the mountain starts to shift (Guess which one doesn't make it). The family is separated: Idun and Sondre are at the local hotel, and Kristian and Julia are at the family's old house. There's a countdown to the wave hitting land, and for some reason, a lot of people take dramatic pauses to stare at the towering water as it approaches, even though the wasted seconds mean the people's eventual demise.

As a piece of pure spectacle, the tsunami sequence is impressive, as Kristian tries to escape the village in his car and then, when he hits a traffic jam, tries to convince everyone he can to run up the hill. Meanwhile, Idun is loading hotel guests on to a bus, and Sondre is not among them. The separation, of course, lets the filmmakers give us two scenes of the wave hitting, and while one, in which two people grab hands in unity and defiance against nature, is frightening, the other sees characters outrunning the rushing water, which sounds as clichéd as it looks.

What happens after that is less convincing still, as one half of the family tries to survive rising water and one member of the other half searches for them. It's another countdown of sorts, although much more contrived than the one to the tsunami. The last act of The Wave keeps moving in that direction, and it undermines the realism that has come before it.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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