Roar Uthuag’s The Wave has already captured the imaginations of the Norwegian people, earning one of Norway’s highest opening weekends whilst also becoming the country entry for the 88th Academy Awards. Uthaug’s superb snowy slasher Cold Prey was a hit for horror audiences the world over, spawning two sequels and securing the director’s place in the contemporary genre.
As far as disaster films go, it’s a great feature, projected higher than it probably should be by a fantastic cast and well-formed family of characters. Too often, disaster films introduce us, briefly, to a group of people and then subject them to the horrors of nature, feeding off the audience’s appreciation of spectacle before ever making us give two shits about who is in danger. Kristoffer Joner (The Revenant) gives a great lead as an anxious geologist awaiting disaster, whilst Ane Dahl Torp (Dead Snow) holds her own as dedicated mother and surprise badass. It’s their performances which pull us in when the film becomes a rescue mission, perhaps losing the level of interest inspired by an oncoming tsunami.
As with any great disaster film, The Wave has a bell-tolling urgency about it. This is a sometimes excruciating film to watch because it captures the pre-disaster ignorance and post-disaster tragedy so well, transforming its idyllic location into a Hell in fifteen short minutes. The slow introduction of worrying seismic activity doesn’t become chilling until the film is sure we understand the gravity of the situation. The script is perfectly tuned to remind us that catastrophe can cause an awful lot of damage in a very short amount of time.
The effects are great, but it’s the post-wave production design that really puts across the gravity of what happens, hopefully Uthaug will take production designer Lina Nordqvist with him onto his Tomb Raider reboot, since that kind of grimy realism could make a great adaptation of the most recent survival/adventure-heavy Tomb Raider games.
As he did in Cold Prey, Uthuag successfully imbibes American genre tropes with a clean kind of grittiness local to Norwegian cinema. The Wave’s strength lies in its ultimate believability and the well-considered gravity of its subject matter which, in the wrong hands, could have come across as a bit exploitative. There’s consideration for the history of this very real problem and a weight to the loss of human life that is never ditched through wobbly CGI or unrealistic narrative buoyancy.
The Wave is everything a disaster movie should be, tense, shocking, heart-breaking, cathartic, and uplifting, a testament to the survival of the human race, and a wholly entertaining piece of cinema.
Dir: Roar Uthaug
Stars: Kristoffer Joner, Ane Dahl Torp, Thomas Bo Larsen, Jonas Hoff Oftebro