When Hollywood decides it wants to take on a natural disaster, they tend to give us something like San Andreas; a thin veneer of emotion over massive special effects and destruction that dominates the screen time. These kinds of popcorn films are entertaining, but they rarely make their point, if they have one, and the stories are so canned they are hard to truly invest in. When smaller films take on disaster, a kind of magic can occur where both message and story are able to come through.
To succeed, The Wave spends a good part of its effort building the relationships and characters. The tropes employed are not at all different from its larger, Hollywood counterparts: bright scientist recognizes an issue, colleagues are reluctant to act, scientist turns out to be right and has to try and rescue their family. In this case, however, the colleagues are reluctant, but not obstinate or dumb, which is a nice change. And the disaster, when it strikes (which is no surprise) is done in near-real-time, both in its countdown and its impact.
Kristoffer Joner (Revenent) and Ane Dahl Torp are the core family and relationship. Their give and take is one of deep affection and honest appraisal of their faults. They are, in short, a very real-feeling family. Each step of their journey seems natural, if not entirely familiar due to culture. You will be holding your breath and sitting tensely as the moments count down and then as the story wraps up.
Director Roar Uthaug keeps the story taut… he knows you know the large outline of the story, so it is the raw approach to showing it and the sense of being really in the moment that helps drive it along. Unlike Force Majeure, the titular wave in the film is not a metaphor; this isn’t an art-house film in that way. This is purely a disaster film, with a plucky family at its core. Intended to entertain, but bent on educating as well. Writers Raake (Ragnarok) and Rosenløw-Eeg (Hawaii-Oslo) create a mostly compelling set of characters and give them some hard choices, without providing a real sense of who can or will survive. The result is a movie you won’t forget for a while.
This tale ends up both satisfying the need for entertainment as well as providing a heavy dose of reality as to the constant danger the area is exposed to. This is a disaster film that is definitely worth your time.