Beware of Falling Rocks: The Wave, a Very Norwegian Disaster Movie

the wave

The Wave
Directed by Roar Uthaug
Opens March 4

When a director like Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay or one of their countless imitators cuts out to global-scale mayhem—buildings toppled; bridges severed; cities leveled—it’s safe to say that the action sticks to landmark-heavy locations like New York, Washington, London, Paris, maybe Rio. Apparently Norway felt left out of these proceedings, or at least director Roar Uthaug did; The Wave, a new Norwegian movie, imagines a decidedly more fjord-centric disaster movie. I’m not being flip: The movie is about an enormous mountain rockslide that tumbles into a fjord, creating a tsunami that threatens a small, scenic village. Local geologist Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) is preparing to move away with his family for a new job; will the town, including the hotel where his wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp) works, heed his warnings?!

They will not, although the general tone seems to be: No hard feelings. The Wave is sparer than its English-language competition like San Andreas or even the classier tsunami exploitation picture The Impossible, lacking both pre-disaster portent and that during-disaster bombast. Kristian’s family conflict veers toward the mild; he’s got a touch of absent-minded-dad syndrome, though he only truly demonstrates it during an actual potential geological emergency—the run-up to the rockslide he becomes convinced is on its way. It’s pleasant enough to watch a disaster-movie family with relatively few melodramatic clichés and plenty of actors who look like actual people, performing a series of dramatic binder consultations. And when the wave starts to gather, there’s a certain monster-movie poetry to the sight of it: massive, inexorable, and, in its way, slow-looking.

But post-tsunami, it boils down to familiar scenarios: flooding rooms, people desperate for oxygen, a father determined to go back through the disaster’d up wasteland. There’s a strong scene where a major character actually does run out of time when fleeing a wave, but it leads into a small time-jump that seems to be engineered to keep the last half-hour of special effects under cover of darkness (the tsunami approaches in the wee hours of the morning, in nicely eerie pre-dawn lighting; when the action restarts, it’s dark again, the time of night, and for that matter time of year, kept vague). Then come those effective but ultimately forgettable suspense sequences, showing up the middling San Andreas but not doing much else. The Wave, based on some actual rockslides from decades ago, may try for a little bit of respectability, but it doesn’t have much to say, and then says it in a somber closing credits: Watch out for rockslides, basically.


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