(2015, Roar Uthaug)
[Scandinavian Film Festival 2016 Australia // Book tickets here]
[3.5 out of 5 stars]
As far as disaster flicks go, it’s refreshing to see a new take outside of Hollywood which churns out these kinds of movies with forced sentimentality and multi-million dollar money shots. THE WAVE does contain sentimentality but it never feels forced and is always earned. There are jaw-dropping shots but only used sparingly and doesn’t supersede a well-told story.
The film is based on a real mountain in Norway, closely monitored by geologists and is expected to collapse onto the fjord causing massive waves that will obliterate nearby towns. It opens with archival footage depicting the aftermath of real-life landslides and tsunamis in the 1930s that wiped out towns and killed a number of Norwegians. It’s a sobering reminder of the very real consequences that forms the basis of the movie we are about to see. It’s much more affecting than a ‘based on true events’ title card.
In this fictionalised depiction, Kristoffer Joner plays Kristian, a geologist who is in the middle of moving away with his wife Idun (Ane Dahl Trop) and their two kids to take up a job in the oil industry - a nice little detail that refers to the relatively recent discovery of gas and oil reserves in the country. For years, Kristian has looked after the mountain and the community who rely on his team to monitor the expanding mountain and warn residents of potential disaster. It’s his last day and, as the familiar story goes, that’s when all hell breaks loose, or rather, the mountain breaks loose.
The sense of place is very well-established. We get to understand this community and how it works. It’s a sleepy, quiet town but it's also populated by a number of tourists, as we witness in the hotel where Idun works.
The presence of the mountains are reinforced in the frame, even in small glimpses from windows in interior shots. “Once the mountains get hold of you, they never let go”, one of the geologists muses. He’s right - the surroundings are so gorgeous you can’t help but be enchanted by it. There’s a nice scene where Kristian and his teenage son throw stones over the water and they reminisce about how much they’re going to miss the place. The mountains stand majestically around them and, knowing what’s about to unfold, their silence becomes eerie.
Despite being limited by budget, the visual effects team do a brilliant job with the big tsunami scene. It looks more convincing than most Hollywood efforts with ten times the money because they make great use of the environment. When the wave comes crashing along the mountains, I was captivated by its beauty and horrified by its destruction. The colour palette is wisely limited to tinges of blue or desaturated to reinforce the always cloudy setting.
Even though the characters are familiar - heroic father, protective mother, angsty teenager and adorable young daughter - the actors play them so compellingly that they don’t come across as cliched at all. I was surprised by some darker turns these characters make, in particular by the mother, who ends up killing a person in order to save her son. Scenes with Kristian desperately searching for his family amongst a sea of wreckage and dead bodies is heartbreaking.
The actual disaster occurs very quickly and most of the time is spent focused on the people before the tragedy and after. It’s a disaster film that wisely puts human experiences rather than destruction at the centre.