The release of a new Norwegian movie will probably lead you to assume that it will be in the arthouse realm, or, at least, a very slow and challenging film. Small European countries (especially around the Scandinavian Peninsula) excel at that kind of filmmaking and cultivate it, and it’s fair to expect it, especially because we’ve historically seen a great deal of them succeed in arthouse theaters and festivals and because many of them are so good. Even their fast-paced, more action-heavy films have their quirks and distinctions, like Trollhunter from 2010. This is to say that when The Wave opens, it won’t be something you’re used to seeing if you have come to expect meditative and avant-garde works from this part of the world. In a sense, I felt mild disappointment that the premise of a giant wave crashing into a village wasn’t given the experimental or cerebral treatment that I’m so enamored with Scandinavian film. On the other hand, it was refreshing to see a more mainstream and commercial example of European cinema that worked so well on its own terms.
The plot is very similar to films like The Day After Tomorrow or the recent San Andreas, wherein natural disasters, as frightening and damaging as they can be, are exaggerated into an apocalyptic event. Though unlike The Day After Tomorrow, we only see one event (a tsunami) effect one small Norwegian village called Geiranger. Additionally, the event is based in reality. Not only have rockslides and subsequent tsunamis actually occurred in this region before, but it is predicted to happen again sometime in the future. Kristoffer Joner plays Kristian, a geologist who predicts the wave and tries to warn the village, and by the time the alarm is sounded, every inhabitant has only ten minutes to make it to 80 feet above sea level.
Due to the remoteness of the location and the shortened span of the catastrophe, The Wave feels much more small-scale and intimate than any other film in the disaster genre. We usually see this kind thing happen in a big, easily recognizable place like New York or L.A. Since it’s just a small village that gets hit, the events seem a lot more real and plausible. The intensity is also built much more slowly, with a sense of foreboding looming behind the relative calm of the film’s opening. It’s shot with overcast lighting and a certain hard-to-pinpoint graveness before anything actually happens. The aftermath of the event is significantly dwelled on as well, and a lot of the most memorable and moving scenes occur well after the wave has struck.
These touches serve to elevate the film beyond its simple premise. While heavy during the build-up, the light-heartedness and rapport seen among family, friends, and coworkers is shown in a highly realistic and endearing manner, so that there is ultimately more weight when it comes to the livelihoods of our characters. It delivers on solid action sequences and thrilling excitement while developing an authentic emotional center, the result being an entertaining action movie that might also leave you feeling a little more satisfied than you would be if it were just the typical show of debris and devastation. | Nic Champion