The Wave (2015) ☆☆☆(3/4): A tsunami movie from Norway

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Norwegian film “The Wave” sets its modest goal and then delivers its goodies as intended from the start. When it stacks up various stock genre materials during its first act, it is lean and efficient as skillfully building tension on the screen. When all hell breaks loose during its middle act, it strikes us with shock and awe as promised. When it eventually enters its final act, there is enough dramatic momentum for its struggling human characters. While it breaks no new ground in its genre, it accomplishes the goal well with its plausible natural catastrophe, and it deserves some praises for that.

Like many of its senior disaster movies such as “The Towering Inferno” (1974), “The Wave” has a hero who happens to notice disturbing signs in advance. As a geologist, Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) has worked at an observatory located near to Geiranger, a small touristic village which does exist in the western area of Norway and has drawn tourists for those gorgeous sceneries of the Geirangerfjord area. Everything looks fine and peaceful in this lovely fjord area which has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005, but there has actually been the increasing possibility of rockslide which can cause a big tsunami to damage the village and its surrounding region, and Kristian and his colleagues has been constantly monitoring for any small but significant geological warning around the area.

After a tiny aberrant happening is detected during his last day at the observatory, Kristian cannot help but think more about that incident as he and his family are preparing for their house-moving. While his wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp) and their cute little daughter Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande) have no problem with moving to a city for his new position, their teenager son Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) is not so happy about this change, and there is a brief intimate scene in which he and Kristian have a heart-to-heart talk outside the house.

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Kristian can just leave the village along with his children while his wife remains there for a few days at a hotel where she works, but there inevitably comes a moment when he realizes the dire possibility behind what he and his colleagues observed. Of course, his colleagues are skeptical in their opposite position. They do recognize that he may be right, but, as scientific experts, they want more confirmations to convince them enough to push the red button for emergency. Kristian does not overlook that he may end up crying wolf, but he still cannot get rid of that uneasy gut feeling of his.

Often serving us with the grand landscape shots of the fjord area, the director Roar Uthaug steadily handles the build-up process accompanied with nice scenes to notice. I particularly enjoyed one quiet but tense scene where two characters climb down deep into a dark, narrow space for checking sensor cables, and I found myself still amazed by the notably late sunset time of the high latitude background in the film (it still looks like late afternoon there even after PM 9:00). The screenplay by John Kåre Raake and Harald Rosenløw-Eeg is plain and simple in its straightforward manner, and the lead actor Kristoffer Joner and the other main performers in the film convincingly inhabit their roles with small human touches.

As the main highlight of the film, the tsunami sequence looks real and terrifying thanks to its effective special effects. Although it relatively looks less epic and expensive compared to what we usually see from Hollywood disaster films, this sequence hits us hard with impactful sights of massive destruction. Besides the obligatory timers for countdown, the movie also features a digital watch which can instantly check altitude, and that functions as a good suspense device when characters are frantically running up to a higher place as the huge wall of water is rapidly advancing to sweep and smash everything in sight.

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Personally, the movie reminds me of South Korean blockbuster film “Tidal Wave” (2009), another disaster movie associated with tsunami. That movie was tepid and overlong as trying to sell itself too hard with redundant silly humor and cheap melodrama, and I did not care a lot about its cardboard characters. That mega-tsunami in the film did look humongous on the big screen when I watched it during one summer day of 2009, but that was merely one of a very few good things in that forgettable film which bored and annoyed me.

In contrast, “The Wave” succeeded in holding my interest thanks to its adequate attention to story and character besides its solid technical aspects. It keeps rolling even after the tsunami sequence, and we get several dark moments which contrast well with the bright mood felt from the early scenes of the movie. While it is easy to predict which character will survive or not in the end, we pay attention to what is at stake for Kristian and other few characters, and that is why a certain scene reminiscent of “The Poseidon Adventure” (1972) works despite a number of nearly unbelievable things in that scene.

In last year, “The Wave” was chosen as Norway’s official submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the 88th Academy Awards. Considering the year which gave us “Mustang” (2015), “The Assassin” (2015), “Our Little Sister” (2015), “Son of Saul” (2015), and “A War” (2015), the movie is less memorable in comparison, but it is a well-made genre piece with earnest appeal anyway, and you will enjoy it if you are a disaster movie fan looking for something a little different.

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