Norway’s first disaster movie – indeed possibly Scandinavia’s first big-budget disaster movie – takes on a foreboding warning of a real-life issue. The Wave is a certainty to happen and because of that, the movie aims for a realistic Hollywood tone. By taking itself seriously and not going for camp, cheap thrills, The Wave is a great success and a very welcome addition to the disaster movie genre.
The disasters faced
A rock slide, earthquake, tsunami, bad driving, idiots freaking out and drowning others, panic, fear and being a bit nice to someone. Plus there’s a whole workaholics anonymous meeting waiting to happen afterwards I’m sure.
Although Norway has no disaster movie heritage, it certainly knows how to take the formula from Hollywood and apply it to a beautiful setting. Geiranger is a beautiful place and the film could work initially as a tourist board video as we watch a refreshingly balanced family of four gearing up for a house move. Our lead Kristian works on surveying the mountain and needs to get away as he has become obsessed over its next collapse. Its real-world connections to its real and tragic collapse give the film extra weight and a short intro to the film tells you this has happened before. When a small tremor causes a rockslide that sends half a mountain into the river, the titular wave heads straight for Geiranger. The sirens signal the alert and everyone has ten minutes to get to safety before the wave hits. Of course, disaster plans are fine in theory but often mean a town is unprepared in practice.
In a similar way to The Impossible, this film decides to focus on a family plight rather than mass scale destruction and aside from the fantastic wave sequence, the film deals with part flooded sets and claustrophobic spaces. Kristian, his daughter and neighbours are stuck up a hill trying to escape whilst wife Idun and their son are trapped in a hotel with some guests. Who will survive and will the family make it back together again?
Why is it worth watching?
The Wave (Bølgen) takes itself seriously enough without going over the top. Most of the supporting cast will not survive and you get the impression the main family will be untouchable from the start so once you’re happy with that you’ll sit and enjoy the show. It feels close to The Impossible in terms of tone but also camera work and shot design. There is an element of documentary camera work where beautiful landscapes are expertly placed on screen or carnage looks hugely artistic. To ground that, a lot of the character shots are more shaky and rough around the edges. It works to create a gritty feel that gives the whole movie character.
What is also excellent is that the water and fire in the after carnage is very real. I love seeing actors reacting as well as acting and there are some decent moments of that here. Interestingly, despite not being a Hollywood film there are some big clichés involved. There is an overly cinematic section at the end for dramatic tension and it’s really the only time in the movie I felt like it was really taking cinematic liberty. It doesn’t affect my enjoyment of the movie, but if you roll your eyes at the coincidence and heroic moments – you’ll have a couple towards the end so beware. Not all the Hollywood style moments are bad though. I especially loved that everyone knew they had 10 minutes to escape the wave to higher ground and the whole build up segment is taut and tense. Often no one knows a wave is coming and this scenario is really fascinating. High-speed evacuations raise the pulse rate!
A random side-note – perhaps because it is based on a real life, expected to happen issue – is that 1 in 6 Norweigns went to see this film in the cinema. No wonder it got a sequel!
The wave itself is really well done and has huge scale to it. The CGI of the wave is detailed but its the water sections in the hotel flooding that made me sit up just as alertly. The set design of the aftermath is particularly well done too and its helped that the disaster occurs late evening so that the darkness can be used to great effect with fire. I’m always an advocate of close up shots and real water in a tsunami-style movie without hundreds of millions for a budget and this pulls it off perfectly.
Whilst the main family of four are all nice enough, it’s how they all bond with each other that makes the film work. Idun and Kristian seem to have a warm marriage and the kids Sondre and Julia have each other’s back too. The science team seem like a nice bunch together too albeit embodying the small town ‘let’s do it tomorrow’ vibe that the film is trying to warn about. Elsewhere most other characters get little screen time or character development except for Phillip which I found fascinating. Phillip seems like a normal guy that is utterly shocked to the core when the wave hits. His shift into panic mode brings along some of the most chilling sections of the movie. What exactly would you do when someone is becoming a real liability? Would your primal instinct kick in too?
‘These mountains… once they grab hold of you they never let go.’
Three memorable moments
- When the moment the wave hits the car and the hotel
- Kristian searching the tourist bus
- Oh, Phillip calm down you idiot…
The obligatory weird moment
It’s not a weird moment specifically but to me, the Norwegian for shit sounds like the English for Fuck. I’m not sure if the subtitles are purposely marking down the level of bad language for certification but I generally had a smile each time someone says ‘shit’ because it sounds a lot worse! It’s stuck in my head now so sorry all!
The drinking game
Each time the son, Sondre, does something that essentially means someone else will be hurt or killed. In one of the slightly black comedy thoughts, I had during the film was how many people are involved in trying to save the son that end up not surviving as a result. Being nice is clearly not rewarded in this film and he is doing his emo best to be awkward and somehow miss the evacuation!
A fantastic piece of cinema. I have only seen the subtitled version but I highly recommend it for disaster movie fans. There are characters to cheer on, excellent special effects, tense moments of fear and clever moments throughout. One of the best disaster movies of the last few years. Highly recommended.
Rating: 4/5 – Excellent
If you liked The Wave then you may like…
- The Quake (Skjelvet) – the Earthquake based sequel following on from this
- The Impossible – the other superb tsunami based film sadly of the real-life disaster
- Haeundae (Tidal Wave) – the best Korean tsunami movie
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*This review was updated on 20th May 2019 to I Love Disaster Movies’ new review format.