The Wave (2015) – A Review
The town of Geiranger in Norway is existing in the shadow of a potential disaster. There’s fear the mountain Akneset will one day fall in the fjord (the narrow stretch of sea surrounded by cliffs, in case you didn’t know) and create a destructive tsunami destroying the local town. Geologist Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) works monitoring the mountain right up to his final day before leaving his job and preparing for his family to move.
Just as Kristian, wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp), son Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) and daughter Julia Edith Haagenrud-Sande) are ready to leave guess what happens? As the title explicitly signals the giant wave does happen. The family that we’ve gotten to know ends up in peril as the destructive power of this wave decimates the area. Kristian attempts to make sure his family who have gotten separated from one another are safe.
It’s really quite a simple streamlined disaster tale. It is predictable and is much smaller scale than what most disaster fans might be accustomed to or wanting from bigger shinier Hollywood productions.
Unfortunately, general American audiences would probably be immediately be put off watching a film with subtitles alone. Plus, a disaster film not having countless money shots of burning and soaked cities with endless CGI destruction raining down on people might be easy for them to dismiss.
It’s a shame, they’re going to miss out. The Wave is quite effective with what it sets out to do and ends up being an engaging yarn. Much more so than the usual Hollywood disaster fare.
The story is basically two parts. The first is us meeting Kristian and his family as they’re preparing to leave Geiranger. Some strange seismic readings are being picked up from the mountain, which Kristian becomes preoccupied about rather than starting up this new life he and his family are about to make.
It’s standard family fare we’ve seen before, however it does work and we end up liking them. The actors all do a nice job and director Roar Uthaug keeps the wave threat alive, never letting us forget about that shaky mountain in the distance. The characters are all placed in their positions for the second half of the film. Kristian and his daughter spend the night at their house and Idun and Sondre are at the hotel she works at. The stage is set.
We also get to admire some stunning shots of the Norwegian landscape. Besides admiring the breathtaking scenery we also become familiarized with the layout of the area. It’s made clear what will happen if the mountain collapses into the fjord and the threat it would mean. Suspense starts to ratchet up as indications of the mountain loosening hit. It takes awhile, but I was completely involved in the story.
Then of course disaster happens. The mountain collapses at night and I suspect that must had been a decision to help mask the budgetary restraints the filmmakers must have had for the special effects. Time begins ticking as its been established everyone has ten minutes to reach higher ground before the wave hits the town. It’s a very effective sequence.
The second half of the film is Idun and Sondre trapped in the basement bomb shelter of the hotel with rising water and we bite our nails waiting to see if Kristian can find them in time. This might not be as ‘BIG’ as disaster fans hope to see, but it works.
This modestly budgeted Norwegian film was a hit in its country. I imagine this real life risk the town of Geiranger faces made audiences take special notice of the film. The Wave ended up being their submission to the Oscars that year. It didn’t make the cut.
The effects, which mainly consist of the wave, are decent. I was quite surprised the budget for this film was only $5 million dollars! Learning that gave me much more respect for the whole production as a whole! For that budget it looks just as good as a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster. It’s really impressive and makes me wonder, how they managed to achieve it.
It’s the execution of the story that really makes it work. The actors are all likable, there’s not a lot of fat to the film, it’s smart and rather than wanting to have your eyes dazzled by visual effects, the goal is to get your emotions invested in the safety of this family.
Ok, so it might not be that original and I wouldn’t call it a great disaster film, but it is quite a pleasant surprise. Certainly much better than the usual disaster fare Hollywood puts out.
Hollywood could learn a few things from The Wave.