In Norway, there are many impressive and breath-taking vistas: mountains; valleys; complex coastlines abutted by precipitously tall cliffs; narrow sea inlets surrounded by steep cliffs. I have never considered the effects of erosion on such cliffs, and the people living nearby, until seeing director Roar Uthaug’s The Wave. The Wave is a disaster film. And while it does hit several of the disaster movie tropes that we have come to expect from the genre, it is also masterfully orchestrated and obtains a level of believability that I have not seen in a disaster movie in a long time; perhaps never. This devotion to realism begins with the film’s use of historical accounts of real killer waves in the Norwegian fjords. Additionally, the film uses a real fjord: Aknesat, accompanied by its own cliff with an ever-widening crevasse. This disaster movie is not about some uber triple faultline abnormality in Yellowstone, or a volcano appearing in the middle of Los Angeles. In The Wave, the audience is presented with an actual, and believable threat. All of the people in the small town of Geiranger live with the constant reminder that they could be wiped out at any time. By finding the potential for danger in the world around them, the writers have managed to craft a richly detailed disaster scenario story.
In addition to looking like a Norse Kevin Bacon, Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) also knows better than everybody else that something very bad is about to happen. But, as disaster movie conventions dictate, he also has responsibilities to his family and the people whom he has to protect in the small tourist town where he lives. The film has some visually impressive action set-pieces that ratchet up the tension. When Kristian and his co-worker rappel down into the Akneset crevasse, I hoped I would see that magnificent location again. See it again I did, in a scene so reminiscent of the trash compactor from Star Wars, I would be surprised if Disney is not already undertaking legal actions against Uthaug.
Uthaug uses some great conventions to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. One element is time; the town residents all know that they have exactly ten minutes from the time they hear the evacuation sirens until they are hit with a giant, life-obliterating tsunami. Watching the countdown is suspenseful and really put me into the moment in the film. Another great convention is that the Kristian knows exactly what elevation he must reach to be safe from the onrushing water. It’s a little bit of a conceit that the main character has a watch that tells him his exact elevation, but I found it engaging nonetheless.
The CG holds up on the big screen for the most part. While I doubt that in real life a fjord tsunami would look the way it appeared on the screen, it was sufficiently menacing with its explosively boiling waters and animalistic groans and roars. The film is 105 minutes long and uses the first forty-five minutes or so to cement our connection to the characters and outline the potential catastophe. It worked. Due to its adherence to genre conventions as well as its commitment to originality, The Wave is currently the best disaster movie I have ever seen.