As you may have guessed from the title, at the centre of The Wave lies a tidal surge of tectonic proportions. During a bravura 10-minute sequence at the midway mark, we watch, with sufficiently bitten nails, as a narrow mountain pass in Norway contracts, causing a devastating landslide that produces a violent tsunami, which crashes along the length and breadth of the Geiranger fjord towards a small tourist town. The tension as this seismic sensation slowly draws closer is suffocating, building with gradual severity as those in harms way struggle to reach higher ground before the inevitable happens.
From the moment we first see geologist Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) driving through the mountains to the foreboding tones of Magnus Beite’s score, we know that this isn’t going to end well. Kristian and his wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp) have lived in Geiranger all their lives, but now they’re packing up their family and heading towards the big city. Then, suddenly, the mountain Kristian has been observing begins to shift…
Made for roughly $6million, a rather meagre amount given the scale, it can’t be denied that the wave itself is a sight to see. Director Roar Uthaug intricately mixes practical and CGI effects to effectively add to the tension, which he then augments with a superb sound mix of echoing thunder.
Yet throughout, there’s something dishearteningly generic about The Wave, the first disaster film to ever be made in Norway. Whilst Nordic Noir has proved Scandinavian entertainment to be formidably edgy, this is frustratingly elemental.Uthaug, working from John Kåre Raake and Harald Rosenløw-Eeg’s script, takes his cue from Hollywood; much of the setup riffs on ideas drawn in The Day After Tomorrow, whilst the finale surprisingly smacks of Titanic. The format is conventional, ensuring there’s just enough character development for us to be invested, and plenty of boffins on hand to offer scientific exposition – as is always the way with such films, The Wave consciously hammers home the fact that this could happen in real life. Whilst the extended third act relies so heavily on convoluted narrative developments and cliché that it’s all you can do not to burst out laughing.
The performances are pleasant enough. Kristoffer Joner brings a charismatic edge that’s entertaining, while Ane Dahl Torp instills heart and strength to what would otherwise be an emotionally overwrought finale. But they, like the titular upsurge of water, are never enough to stop The Wave from feeling like a washout.