The Wave

The Wave (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★

Solid disaster movies are hard to come by because these films almost always rely solely on special and visual effects, putting story and common sense by the wayside. Credit goes to the writers of “Bølgen,” John Kåre Raake and Harald Rosenløw-Eeg, for not simply going on autopilot and letting images do all the work. I argue that the best moments of the picture are those that are quite educational. That is, when we get a chance to learn more about an occupation which involves tracking precise movements of a mountain.

During Kristian’s (Kristoffer Joner) last day on the job at the warning center, a co-worker notices something odd with one of the sensors: groundwater has disappeared suddenly from the mountain. A superior claims that perhaps this is only due to a faulty sensor and so they investigate. When they get there, it turns out that wires that have been cut—very likely due to an out-of-the-norm seismic activity. Kristian begins to suspect that a massive landslide is going to occur which will create a tidal wave about eighty-meters tall—certain to erase Geiranger from the map. The village just so happens to be a very popular tourist destination for its incredible lakeside views.

Disaster movies are almost never educational so I relished every science-talk that takes place in the warning center. While there are disagreements about what to do given a set of data, there is no villain. Obviously, Kristian’s suspicion is going to prove correct. However, I admired that the opposition’s opinions are presented as actual expertise, practical even, rather than serving as color commentary that are designed to polarize the audience. This is one significant difference between a smart movie that just so happens to be a disaster film and a Hollywood disaster movie from skin to its marrow, down to its very soul (or lack thereof).

Scenes that show the tidal wave are horrifying and harrowing. There is one shot that I am certain to remember. On the foreground is a panic-stricken father amongst chaos as he attempts to save his daughter (Edith Haagenrud-Sande) and himself by running further upwards on an uphill road. He must make it to at least 80 meters above sea level. However, his watch shows that he is barely at 50 meters. At this point, he and his daughter are likely going to drown. Meanwhile, on the background, we see a placid lake—no sign of a destructive wave. Within a matter of seconds, however, everything will be underwater.

The material might have been improved given more in-depth characterizations of Kristian’s wife (Ane Dahl Torp) and son (Jonas Hoff Oftebro). Although it is cliché that the husband and wife fight before the calamity, I found it fresh that Torp portrays Idun as physically strong, alert, someone who can handle herself. And even though it is also cliché that there is tension between father and son because of their family moving to the city, Oftebro has a knack for playing an angsty teenager without making us forget that he is a good kid. Because the recurrent theme involves family being a unit even though they have their own identities, I wished we knew more about Idun and Sondre independent of the catastrophe about to happen to them.

“The Wave,” directed by Roar Uthaug, offers intelligence, thrills, suspense, and genuinely moving images of people either trying to survive or dealing with the aftermath. Work that stand out has a way of making the audiences appreciate the background and remembering details about them. For example, during the scene where people have begun getting out of their cars and running due to traffic congestion up ahead, people standing next to their vehicles look confused, not entirely convinced whether they should do what others are doing. That stuck with me because I could see that happening in real life. Quick snapshots of authenticity make this picture all the more compelling.

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