Director: Roar Uthaug
Cast: Kristoffer Joner, Ane Dahl Torp, Fridtjov Saheim, Laila Goody, Tyra Holmen, Thomas Bo Larsen
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Norwegian director Roar Uthaug’s stated intention with this gripping survival thriller was to combine genre elements of Hollywood disaster movies with Norway’s real-life situation, something that’s heightened considerably by filming in a location that is genuinely at risk of the horrors depicted. The resulting movie struck a strong chord with local audiences, becoming the highest-grossing film at the Norwegian box-office in 2015, as well as Norway’s official submission for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.
As the film opens, captions and photographs inform us of previous disasters – such as a 1905 tsunami that killed 60 people – along with a chilling reminder that it’s only a matter of time before it happens again. The setting for the film is the picturesque village of Geiranger, a popular fjord-side tourist destination, which is under constant threat from nearby mountain Åkerneset.
Norwegian star Kristoffer Joner plays Geiranger-based geologist Kristian, who has accepted a job in the city and is about to relocate with his wife, hotel manager Idun (Ane Dahl Torp), sullen teenage son Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) and adorable younger daughter Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande). As the family box up their things in preparation for the move, Kristian pays a farewell visit to his co-workers, who are tasked with the constant monitoring of the Åkerneset situation and are supposed to hit a panic button if anything goes wrong, which will give the residents of Geiranger just 10 minutes to get to higher ground.
When Kristian learns of some dodgy readings from the mountain, he has a hunch that the rock layers have shifted, meaning that a long-feared disaster is imminent. Naturally, his co-workers ignore his theories until he’s proven catastrophically correct and a rockslide sends a terrifying tsunami hurtling towards Geiranger. As the alarm sounds, Kristian grabs Julia and attempts to out-run the wave alongside dozens of panicked villagers, but Idun and Sondre remain trapped in a hotel at the base of the fjord.
Joner and Dahl Torp deliver engaging, charismatic performances as the two leads, both of whom reveal commendable reserves of courage in the face of disaster. Similarly, Hoff Oftebro has a good line in sulky teen moodiness (he’s skateboarding in the hotel basement with headphones on when the siren goes off), while Haagenrud-Sande is extremely sweet as little Julia and acquits herself nicely in the running and screaming department.
Uthaug does a terrific job of ratcheting up the tension in the first half, which reaches a thrilling peak as the sirens go off and everyone sets their timer alarms. Similarly, the tsunami and subsequent village-swamping effects are both extraordinary and properly terrifying (one wonders what the real-life residents made of the film), while Uthaug maintains the suspense in a gripping and powerfully claustrophobic final act where the hotel basically becomes like the Titanic, rapidly filling with water as Idun and Sondre attempt to escape.
As with Juan Antonio Bayona’s tsunami thriller The Impossible, The Wave narrows its focus to concentrate on a single family escaping the tragedy, which heightens the emotional investment, but also short-changes some of the supporting cast (notably Idun’s co-worker, who has a mild flirtation with Sondre) in the process. That said, the script takes an intriguingly dark turn at one point that sets it apart from standard Hollywood disaster fare.
Beautifully shot and superbly acted, this is a powerfully gripping and emotionally engaging disaster flick that will make you seriously re-think that trip to the fjords.
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