This is a capsule review. A full review will be posted closer to release.
As is befitting a disaster movie that pits the inhabitants of a small town against a mountain, the Norwegian catastrophe drama The Wave has one massive peak. Midway through the film, residents of a sleepy, fjord-side village hear a sound they hoped they’d never have to: air horns signalling the imminent arrival of a tsunami. Living in this peaceful region has always meant being at the mercy of the surrounding mountains, where a rockslide can cause water levels to rise dramatically. As the alarm rousts people out of bed, even those who are awake don’t react for a solid minute. A terrifying inevitability has come to pass, and no one wants to believe it.
The ten minutes that follow are thrillingly constructed by director Roar Uthaug, who presents the town’s evacuation with a believable mix of chaos and collective instinct. The Wave’s arrival the same year as the exhaustingly overblown San Andreas is proof that the disaster genre doesn’t need scale to put you in the shoes of people desperately trying to outrace certain death. It’s the stuff on either side of this highpoint that then reminds you of how inescapable many of the genre’s clichés still are. Our requisite nuclear family of interest is more likeable than most, and though The Wave gamely mimics the camerawork and sound of bigger blockbusters, the effect gets less endearing as we go page by page through the disaster movie playbook.
Uthaug respectably avoids superfluous drama when possible, keeping the focus tight, but this leaves The Wave with a flatter aftermath to explore in the wake of its showstopper. But, man, that showstopper: borrowing more than just the tourist trappings of Jaws, The Wave’s first glimpses of its star attraction keep the size of the tsunami hidden. When it does finally present itself, in all its terrible glory, your awe at the wave’s magnitude (and glee at watching someone else have to deal with it) expresses the genre’s visceral power as few films have in recent memory.
The Wave may be like a lot of other disaster movies out there, but does more with less than much of the competition.