Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 6, 2016)
Some cinematic genres seem more closely affiliated with various countries/cultures than others, and the disaster movie feels inherently American to me. That doesn’t mean other regions don’t give the topic their own spin, however, and 2015’s The Wave provides a Norwegian disaster flick.
Set in the small Norwegian village of Geiranger, spectacular mountain passes make the area a tourist draw. However, these locations also mean that Geiranger suffers from a ticking time bomb, as these ranges come with inherent instability that seems likely to cause mayhem eventually.
As geologist Kristian Eikjord (Kristoffer Joner) learns, “eventually” means “now”. After a rockslide causes a massive tsunami, Kristian and all the other locals scramble to escape the impending doom.
Due to its emphasis on water-related menace, The Wave seems most likely to get compared to efforts like The Poseidon Adventure or The Perfect Storm. Instead, I think its closest cinematic forebear comes from 1997’s Dante’s Peak.
Many of the similarities relate to the film’s settings, as both plop their characters into quaint little towns. Both also feature mountains that cause disaster and lead characters who predict doom but get ignored by others.
Not that Peak or Wave cornered the market on the latter theme, as it plays a role in many films of this sort. Jaws, Towering Inferno, you name it – the lead who sees a threat others refuse to acknowledge exists as a genre cliché.
Given its investment in shopworn character choices, does The Wave do anything to differentiate itself from other disaster films? Not really, and it squanders its lengthy first act, as it fails to set up its participants in a compelling manner.
Wave makes us wait quite a while before any action occurs. Rather than use this period to get us to invest in the characters, we mostly see Kristian as he explores, advocates and sulks. We never really know – or care – much about Kristian, his family, or any others.
This means that once the mayhem begins, we don’t fret too much about who’ll live or die. Having seen many movies of this sort, we already boast a pretty good idea of how matters will unfold, and Wave does nothing to challenge those assumptions.
Really, there’s not much – if anything – I could call new in The Wave, and that becomes a liability. Not that I expect it to totally reinvent the disaster wheel, but I’d like something that at least attempts originality or creativity.
Neither occurs here. As mentioned earlier, The Wave comes with obvious connections to prior disaster films, and it doesn’t manage to forge its own identity. We feel like we’ve seen it all before – and seen it better. Heck, it even steals dramatic elements from sources like The Abyss and Titanic.
Mediocre production values don’t help. I suspect The Wave enjoyed a fairly limited budget, and it shows – mainly via the iffy computer graphics. In particular, water never looks especially convincing, and since the story revolves around a tsunami, that turns into a problem.
Going back to my childhood, I loved disaster movies, and I still enjoy them when done well. The Wave occasionally threatens to come to life, but it seems too cliché and too pedestrian to become a memorable genre entry.