The Wave

Year: 2016
Production Co: Fantefilm
Director: Roar Uthaug
Writer: John Kåre Raake/Harald Rosenløw-Eeg/Martin Sundland
Cast: Kristoffer Joner, Ane Dahl Torp

The Wave is a great example of the globalisation of cinema. In every possible measure – from the performances to the special effects – it's a disaster movie of the kind that kept Hollywood relevant to the masses during the 60s and 70s.

Every traditional motif, the emotional stakes, the structure and the characterisations could be lifted straight from a hundred thrillers from Earthquake to San Andreas, and director Roar Uthaug gets them all spot on. That he and his cast and crew are all from Norway, the film is set in the mountainous region of Ã…kneset and is entirely in Norweigan feels almost trivial.

Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) is bidding his colleagues at a geological research station high above the Geiranger fjord goodbye as he prepares to move away to work in the oil industry. His pre-teen daughter, teenage son and wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp) are all ready to leave on the ferry out, Idun only having to work one more night at the hotel situated right at the waterfront in town.

But something about the readings taken from the cliffs is bothering Kristian. Special devices that measure how far a yawning crevasse is slowly opening are suddenly transmitting some worrying data, and instead of boarding the ferry with his kids, Kristian turns around and goes back to the job he doesn't have anymore to try and convince his colleagues to check it out. He drops his son off at the hotel to stay with his mother and takes his daughter home to their empty house to try and get some sleep and wait for the result.

If the crevasse gives way and lets go, hundreds of tons of rock will tumble into the water and set off the tsunami of the title down the fjord right towards thousands of people (in another classic disaster motif, the opening credits have already shown us grainy footage and photographs of the last time it happened in the 1900s, appended with the warning that it's only a matter of time before it happens again).

Like Dante's Peak, The Day After Tomorrow and hundreds more before, the scientists of The Wave cop it first, the natural catastrophe unleashing its power while they're in the midst of it. After a tense and well-designed sequence of two of Kristian's colleagues who happen to be in the crevasse when it gives way, the rocks come tumbling down and the wave that comes surging along the fjord late that night is hundreds of feet high.

The townspeople know they have ten minutes to get out. Kristian takes his daughter and heads for the hills in their car, but after Idun sees the guests out safely on the hotel bus, she realises she can't find their son, rushing back inside to search for him.

When the wave hits, chaos reigns. Kristin and his little girl aren't high enough and he finds himself spinning over and over underwater, trapped in a car. Idun and her boy run downstairs to make for a storm cellar, rubble promptly trapping them inside and with water pouring in.

Structurally, it's a challenge to blow your one big special effects climax halfway through. The remainder of the movie depicts Kristian going back down the hill and picking through the rubble to try and find his wife and son while they try and escape what looks like a watery tomb, and it's about sadness and desperation rather than fear and action, by definition not as thrilling or broadly cinematic.

The first half of the movie is shot through with a very successful undercurrent of tension building thanks to the talents of and editing under director Uthaung, whereas after the wave passes some of the pounding urgency is gone. But if you love big Hollywood disaster movies, this might be the most faithful rendition of one to come from outside Hollywood in a long time.

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