THE WAVE whams fresh life force into our battered old friend the Disaster Movie, reminding us that it’s not just the spectacle of big things being smashed up that goads us to watch but also primordial survival fear and universally shared concern for others. Of course, when the special effects are exciting, it’s bonus Cool.*
A Norwegian geologist and family are faced with sudden and terrifying choices when a mountainside tumbles into the Geiranger Fjord their town is perched next to, and a 300-foot high wall of water races toward them. Swimming?–get real, as in now.
People that don’t care for war movies will usually surrender to The Great Escape, and those who sneer at westerns will put aside the bean sprouts to allow room for steak ala The Magnificent Seven. Grumpy trolls can crawl back under their couchbridge while those equipped with corpuscles can signal them to flood with this 2015 winner from Norway (known there as Bølgen), which brings some smarts, believability, brevity and heart to bear in it’s Run-Like-Hell! catastrophe tale, and you’d have to be actively dull (science term, look it up) not to be swept along with the tide.
The smarts come from the focused direction by Roar Uthoag (by Odin, now that’s a name to oar to!) and the lean scripting from John Kåre Raake and Harald Rosenløw-Eeg (tsk your pronunciation: the Norwegians I’ve met speak English better than Americans anyway). Believability comes not just from how events play in the treatment but from the creepy factual basis for this kind of gullywhomper. Brevity keeps it tight and manageable at 105 minutes, with no dumb romance and utterly impossible fly-plane-thru-collapsing-skyscraper stunts. Heart is key because you actually rather like the characters and they’re a relative few (no guest-star die-on’s that are only an excuse to watch desperate supporting actors hurtle into lava pits or off trestles), with the acting good all round. Kristoffer Joner as the geologist/father/hero is fully convincing; by turns worried, resolute and flawed. Ane Dahl Torp as the innkeeper/mother/heroine is readily warm, capable and fierce: she’s also a natural Scandinavian beauty (I’ve always wanted to see Galdhøppigen in February…).
Norwegians are lucky to be blessed with natural bounty of all kinds, but the novel setting makes this a real visual treat for the rest of us, with picturesque camera work from John Christian Rosenlund doing justice to the stunning fjords and cliffs. Properly ominous scoring from Magnus Beite adds to the tension. The effects are standard modern-day excellent, and have a neat twist of happening at dusk, adding to the scares, and are wisely used with restraint, serving the story rather than the usual other way around. Terror is achieved.
Quoting director Uthoag: “This will actually happen there one day. There is this crack in the mountainside out in the fjord, and it keeps expanding each year and at some point it will cause a huge rockslide into the fjord and they will have 10 minutes before the wave reaches Geiranger.”
Produced for $6,500,000, it earned positive writeups and $11,600,000 at registers. A good bet for developing a loyal following. With Jonas Hoffe Ostebro, Fritjov Såheim and Edith Haagenrud-Sande. A real winner.
* Say “Disaster Movie” and ersatz sophisticates instantly tilt noses 45 degrees, as if it’s somehow intellectually mystifying that crowds flock to movies centered around natural calamities (notwithstanding they also shell out for stories about combat, aliens, crime, people bursting into song and Jesus Christ). We all live on one kind of edge or another (ever been in an accident?) and it’s a pretty good bet that at some point you’ll share in a communal trauma—quake, tsunami, eruption, something big from the sky—and encoded from saber-tooth and cave-bear days is the What Will I Do and How, When It–whatever the form– Shows Up? At 8:51 am. Got water? Weapon? Plan? I didn’t think so. Of course, the disaster flicks most moviegoers recognize stem from the mid 70s popcorn fests The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, Earthquake and ilk, with recent goofy Goliaths 2012 and San Andreas adding CGI magic to the mix of crushing, crashing and cliches. Long ago (movie geology time) there were some classic pictures with climaxes or centerpieces of spectacular destruction, but they were often graced with superior A-list actors, directors and writers: San Francisco, The Hurricane, In Old Chicago, The Rains Came. The assorted ‘Titanic’ movies bridge the gap. This thoughtful, thrilling entry from Norway isn’t on the colossal scale of the latter-day epics, but it has the human grip of those golden oldies from the 1930s. Take your overloaded mind off political insanity and catch The Wave.