Incredible effects and powerful performances make Scandinavia's first disaster movie an unmissable event
As cinematic disaster movies go, The Wave is both visually stunning and narratively familiar. With the collapse of a mountain range above a beautiful, narrow Norwegian fjord (a UNESCO World Heritage Site, no less), it creates an 80-foot tsunami that overwhelms the small, tourist haven of Geiranger. In the middle of the carnage, geologist Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) finds himself in a battle against time to reach his wife and son, who are trapped in the rapidly-filling basement of the local hotel.
Such apocalyptic events are nothing new on-screen, but Norwegian director Roar Uthaug imbues his film with rather more grit and texture than formulaic Hollywood efforts like 2012 and San Andreas. While it may take plenty of cues from this well-stocked genre – Kristian's unheeded warnings about the impending danger are reminiscent of Sgt Brody in Jaws, while the epic visuals bring to mind everything from Deep Impact to The Poseidon Adventure – its expert use of an incredible Scandinavian setting and unflinching tone give it decidedly more depth.
Indeed, John Christian Rosenlund's expert cinematography captures both the widespread destruction and personal suffering of this cataclysmic event, widening to take in the awesome dominance of mother nature and narrowing to focus on the individual stories that drive the drama. He never shies away from the sight of people desperately fighting for survival, final breaths, bodies floating in the water, and the story is all the more powerful for it.
That's not to say that the screenplay, by John Kare Raake and Harald Rosenlow-Eeg, avoids genre cliche entirely. People – including Kristian's hapless son – make entirely stupid decisions, parents are forced to make monumental sacrifices, there's even a literal big red panic button to trigger the tsunami alarm. Yet these are drowned out not just by the devastating majesty of the titular wave itself – an incredibly, frothing CGI creation that turns the stunning backdrop from heaven to hell in an instant – but also the non-stop action and breathless performances. You just can't help but be swept away.
Limited release from Friday 12 Aug.