“I’ve always been a fan of strong female characters, like in the Alien movies or the Terminator movies.”
Consider disaster movies of recent times. Natural disasters, things that happen frequently today, are transformed into apocalyptic, life-ending events that strike multiple times, in multiple numbers, often to a metropolis inhabited by archetypes rather than real people. The Wave follows suit from these movies, but fills in the missing pieces with great characters and a relatable disaster scenario.
I had the pleasure of talking to director Roar Uthaug about how he arrived at this well-balanced result.
What sets The Wave apart from, say, The Day After Tomorrow or Into the Storm, is that it isn’t about the end of the world. There are no super tornadoes with apparent sentience, no tremors that separate the earth beneath people’s feet. There is simply one wave, explained deftly by rockslides that fall into the adjacent body of water. There is one location, and only one group of people given primary focus. That is the geologist Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) and his family.
“We wanted to have a closeness to the characters, that you feel you’re there with them and you’re experiencing through the characters instead of taking the God’s-eye perspective on everything,” says Uthaug.
The Wave pulls together both the excitement and familiarity of the disaster genre that is also elevated by a more intimate approach to the characters. There is a definite alignment with the catastrophic stories from here in the United States that ignite terror through real, natural agents such as storms and wild animals. Comparisons can be readily made to the disaster movies of the ’70s, such as Jaws and The Poseidon Adventure, in addition to the more modern versions mentioned before.
But, according to Uthaug, “It was more the real situation of the dangerous mountains we have here in Norway.” That is, the town of Geiranger and the very real threat under which it sits sparked the film’s creation, making it more a dramatization of a well-researched, near-future scenario instead of a far-fetched end-of-the-world situation.
The mountains bordering Geiranger are expanding. As Uthaug told me, “At one point, it will create a huge rockslide into the fjord. I think that was what I thought was a good starting point for a Norwegian take on the disaster movie genre.” In keeping with this plausible threat, the production of the movie was based in the actual threatened location, and input from geologists and locals were used greatly in the final product.
“We talked, a lot, to the local people, and to the geologists and people that monitor the mountain when prepping the movie. Everyone in that area is very aware of the situation, and they also feel secure by the monitoring that’s going on.”
In addition to these sources providing information, actual people from the community were utilized, as well. “There was a lot of location shooting, and we shot it in the place where it will actually happen,” says Uthaug. “And the extras running for their lives up the hill: They’re people from the local community.”
In addition to the film’s engaging plausibility, Uthaug was able to achieve quite a few compelling effects. The actors did all their own stunts, which allowed for a closeness that adds to the actions sequences’ convincing effect.
“We wanted that high realism; we had to do it that way,” Uthaug explains. “Also, our actors—we sent them to kind of a boot camp with a free diving instructor to help them with being underwater for longer periods of time. They were so good in the end that we didn’t need any stunt doubles or anything like that. Our main guy held his breath for over three minutes.”
It makes all the difference when it comes to empathizing with the characters, as the absence of stunt doubles allows for intense close-ups of the actors’ faces as they swim desperately through murky water and avoid hazardous debris. And because these characters are so relatable and likeable, closeness to them is all the more necessary.
Among the many good performances, Ane Dahl Torp pulls a massive amount of weight as Kristian’s wife Idun, who is forced into a bomb shelter beneath the hotel where she works, which is consumed by the wave. Their son and an angry and grieving tourist (played by Thomas Bo Larsen, whom you might recognize from the films of Thomas Vinterberg) occupy the shelter as well, the water level gradually rising. It’s up to Idun to manage the situation entirely, and it’s such a welcome change to see the wife character really calling the shots and generally kicking ass.
This dynamic was one of the few things Uthaug provided movie names to explain, saying “I’ve always been a fan of strong female characters, like in the Alien movies or the Terminator movies. I think that’s something that’s been a part or my previous movies, as well.”
The Wave is a combination of things. It’s an action movie through and through, but the smart character building and realism of the setting and premise put it a step above the rest. While taking inspiration from films about natural disasters made in the United States, it will hopefully provide information back to us, thereby making the floundering disaster genre more legitimate and appealing. | Nic Champion