Movie Review: The Wave (2015)

“It was only a matter of time.”

2 Stars
The Wave (2016)

The Wave (2016)


Director: Roar Uthaug

Cast: Kristoffer Joner, Ane Dahl Torp, Jonas Hoff Oftebro

Synopsis: When a mountain collapses, the residents of the nearby town have only ten minutes to scrabble to safety before a massive tidal wave hits.

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By seeking to emulate the success of the Hollywood disaster movies by which it’s clearly inspired, Norway’s The Wave, directed by Roar Uthaug, inadvertently demonstrates how tinseltown used to do it before becoming fatally distracted by CGI.   The Wave devotes more time is to developing characters and exploring their relationships, which surely has to be a good thing, even if those characters are rather insipid stereotypes.  It also draws inspiration for its plot from a prospect that is frighteningly real for the inhabitants of Norway, a country which, up to February 2015, had suffered 33,000 landslides.

The slender-framed Kristoffer Jones, whose lived-in face and shock of unruly hair puts one in mind of a Kevin Bacon/Mark Wahlberg mash-up, makes an unlikely hero, but does well as Kristian Elkord, a geologist whose new job in Stavanger means moving his wife and two kids from the home they love.   It’s his last day as head of the Early Warning Center which monitors rock movements of a cracked mountain not far from Geiranger, a town which lives under the permanent threat of a pummelling from a deadly tidal wave should the loose face of that mountain ever slide into the picturesque fjord it overlooks.  It’s the job of Kris and his team to sound the alarm the moment it looks as if the worst is about to happen, hopefully buying the townspeople enough time to safely evacuate the town, otherwise they’ll have no more than ten minutes to make high ground.

By the time that the unthinkable does finally happen, Kris and his little daughter have been separated from his wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp – Dead Snow) and teenage son, Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) for reasons that really are too convoluted to, ahem, hold water, and he must make his way back to the hotel in which Idun works in the slim hope that she and their son might still be alive.

Although it’s noticeably less sensationalist than its Hollywood counterparts, The Wave works from the same worn template.   In order to get to the fun stuff we have to ponderously wade through a lot of exposition which, other than contrive to separate Kris’s family, achieves little.   Of course, Kris is the only one that realises what is going on, but while a Hollywood movie would have all his colleagues dismiss his warnings, and thus earn their place in a mass watery grave, Kris’s workmates more or less go along with him – they just do it with the kind of lack of urgency that makes his frantic appeals look a little silly.   Even as their banks of monitors flash red and the earth shakes beneath their feet, one of them hesitates before sounding the siren that will alert the sleeping townsfolk to the watery hammer-blow heading their way.

Once the water’s on its way, the pace picks up considerably, and The Wave kicks into survival mode with relish, utilising staggering effects that are every bit the equal of anything Hollywood can produce.   Maintaining a decent level of tension throughout, it splits screen time between the plight of Idun and Sondre as they strive to escape from a basement shelter slowly filling with water, and Kris’s increasingly frantic efforts to locate them.   Things do grow progressively far-fetched as the film goes on, with characters performing superhuman feats that simply defy belief, and there’s no doubting the producers had their eye on the international market, but, although it does make use of CGI, The Wave is still an enjoyable throwback to the days before computer technology became the be-all and end-all of disaster movies.

(Reviewed 15th August 2016)

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