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The Wave - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Wave
Directing: B
Acting: B
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+
Special Effects: B

Are you over disaster movies? Desensitized to them, maybe? Tired of how incredibly stupid and unrealistic they are? Do you remember how thrilling they once were? But lament how long it's been since there's been a genuinely decent one? Well, Norwegian director Roar Uthaug is here to offer what you've waited far too long for: a disaster movie with a concept that's actually realistic, featuring characters you actually care about.

For a disaster of such massive scale -- a tsunami resulting from a rock slide in a fjord -- The Wave takes an unusually small-scale approach, focusing almost completely on the family of geologist Kristian (Kristoffer Joner), who has a wife (Ane Dahl Torp) who works at the local hotel, and two children, a teen boy (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) and a little girl (Edith Haagenrud-Sande). Kristian does have a few coworkers we come to know in the Early Warning Center he is leaving for a better job at another town, and a family that lives next door to them.

But that is the extent of the number of characters we get introduced to. For too many years, the standard Hollywood disaster movie formula has been to introduce more characters than we can keep track of, most of whom are expendable. The Wave arguably goes a bit too far in the other direction, with very few of the principal characters actually perishing in this disaster. But it's not exactly disappointing either, for a movie that actually takes the time to let us get to know these people, and worry about their fate, because they actually have multiple dimensions.

The Wave clearly has a far smaller budget than any disaster movie we're accustomed to. This means that once the tsunami happens, the special effects, while still impressive for how comparatively little money is spent on them, are refreshingly subtle. That doesn't make us any less in awe of the huge tidal wave that comes crashing toward this small tourist town. It just means not as much time and resources are spent on rendering it onscreen. The focus is on the characters rather than the event.

I'm not going to say The Wave is any kind of cinematic masterpiece. It's still just another disaster movie, when all is said and done. But it also stands apart from other disaster movies, if you simply judge it within that context. It's nice to see something like this done outside the prism of Hollywood. None of the principal actors are Hollywood-beautiful. The primary characters are forty years old, and they are played by age-appropriate actors. This is a disaster movie done right. I cared enough about these characters to get a little weepy about their possible fates. That never happened with 2012.

The wave itself -- the tsunami -- is little more than a ten-minute sequence a little more than halfway through the film. The ten minutes is significant, as once they realize it's coming, they know they have ten minutes to get to higher ground. Of course, Kristian's family gets into situations where they have to hang back for one reason or another: the neighbor's wife is injured and needs assistance; the teenage son is skateboarding in basement floors of the hotel with headphones on. Flooding of all sorts ensues, and a lot of this movie ultimately parallels what happens in the original The Poseidon Adventure.

The key to the success of this movie, though, is its narrower focus on fewer characters, even than most of those disaster movies from the seventies. This is an event that affects an entire town, but all we really care about is this one family of four. It's a very effective way to present a story of this sort. The Wave provides all the thrills you can want from a disaster movie, but also provides all the drama you could want from said family overcoming the odds against them. This is the kind of movie that delivers on the entertainment it promises, while maintaining the integrity of its concept: the disaster at hand is actually realistic. You really can't ask for more from a movie of this type.

It may be formula but there's still a regained excitement to THE WAVE.

Overall: B+
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