The Wave (2015)
Directed by: Roar Uthag
Starring: Kristoffer Joner, Ane Dahl Torp, Thomas Bo Larsen, Jonas Hoff Oftebro
For most of the world, Scandinavian cinema might appear as a bunch of angsty dramas in the tradition of Ingmar Bergman. Which isn’t entirely erroneous – but not the whole truth either. The last few years, several genre film projects have seen the light of day. Many of them have been quite entertaining, from Norway’s Troll Hunter to Finnish sci-fi epic Iron Sky. Most have been small-budget efforts, but what they lack in production values is often made up for by creativity and enthusiasm. Overall, they have been a welcome addition to the otherwise somewhat morose landscape of Nordic cinema.
So — joy! — here comes Scandinavia’s first real disaster movie: the Norwegian tsunami thriller The Wave (original Norwegian title: Bølgen). This time the result isn’t just endearingly enthusiastic. In fact, director Roar Uthag’s film more than holds its own among bigger budgeted competitors. (The 50 million Norwegian krona that was spent on The Wave equals just short of US$6 million.) With no international stars and modest amounts of CGI, The Wave is a rather low-key affair that still manages to deliver everything you expect from a disaster movie.
Story-wise, the writers stick to classic genre conventions. Geologist Kristian (the excellent Kristoffer Joner) is the obsessive scientist about to quit his job in rural Norway to move to the capital of Oslo. He gets very nervous when sensors begin picking up anomalous readings from the Åkneset mountain. The mountain overlooks a narrow fjord, and a quake or landslide would have catastrophic effects for the small town of Geiranger, located at the end of the fjord.
Despite some rumblings the mountain seems stable enough, and Kristian’s colleagues maintain that everything will be all right. Kristian is literally on his way to Oslo, along with his teenage son and small daughter, when he realizes what’s going on deep below the mountain. As the worst scenario imaginable plays out, and an 80 meter high tsunami wave rushes towards Geiranger, Kristian has to find a way to save his wife and children.
The Wave is a very likeable movie in several ways. It is beautifully shot, making good use of the picturesque Norwegian coastline. It begins modestly, with a chamber piece feel to it, but the tension mounts steadily. The visual effects, including the CGI, are good and used efficiently, making the climactic tsunami quite satisfying. What sets the film apart from its high-Hollywood cousins, though, is the intimate and (for a disaster movie) realistic feel of the drama. The characters actually come across like real, believable people instead of action heroes. Credit for this must go to the largely unknown but excellent cast, and a script refreshingly free from laboured attempts at trailer-friendly quips.
The devastation of the village packs a good punch, but the most hard-hitting moment takes place in the basement of a flooded hotel. Kristian’s wife is faced with a terrible choice, with her son’s life hanging in the balance. It’s the kind of moment most disaster films prefer not to dwell too much on.
All in all, a very worthwhile movie that should satisfy most viewers. Highly recommended.