Norway is a gorgeous country, what with its magnificent mountains and beautiful fjords I’ve always assumed more people didn’t live there because of the danger of being eaten by trolls, but it turns out being wiped out by a tsunami is the real threat to life in limb for many Norwegians. It’s this very threat that is the centerpiece of director Roar Uthaug film The Wave (Bølgen) and not only is it a fantastic disaster film it is also an excellent character piece with some of the finest acting I’ve seen in this genre or any other.
Apparently Norway is prone to rockslides and this film is based on a rockslide tsunami incident which destroyed a Norwegian town on 7 April 1934, killing 40 people. This film’s protagonist is geologist Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) who is leaving his job monitoring the activity of his mountain to take what we assume is a more lucrative job with an oil company, but on his last day he becomes concerned with some strange readings that he thinks could be signs of a large part of the mountain breaking off. His co-workers unwilling to give too much credence to his warnings and certainly don’t want to make an official warning as that could harm the local tourist trade. That there is movie cliché number one: The ignored hero.
From Jaws to Dante’s Peak films of this type always love to have our hero fighting against the establishment, and then of course be proven right as the problem swims up and bites them in the ass or in this case rushes at them in a three hundred foot wall of water. What offsets the numerous disaster clichés that populate this film is the amazing cast that Uthaug has assembled. Joner is fantastic as the beleaguered geologist as is Ane Dahl Torp who plays his wife Idun. Their relationship has that same type of realistic heart to it that we got with Martin and Ellen Brody in Spielberg’s Jaws. Kristian has his head stuck in the mountain while his more pragmatic wife is under the sink fixing the plumbing, but when the shit hits the fan these two can handle anything. Sadly one of those things they have to handle is movie cliché number two: The idiot teenage son.
When the wave strikes Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) skateboarding around the basement of the hotel his mom works at, and because he is listening to music through his headphones he doesn’t hear the tsunami warning sirens. This results in his mom and two other guests not getting on the evacuation bus so that they can go back into the hotel and look for him. I don’t want to get any further into spoilers as the movie does have some really nice surprising moments and most of them are not based on the effects spectacle of a disaster movie but are character based.
When disaster strikes Kristian is with his young daughter Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande) while his wife is at the hotel with their son in the village proper, which is of course right in the path of the wave, and it’s Kristian’s fight to get his daughter to safety and find his wife and son that makes up the second half of the movie. You will be at the edge of your seat as these people you have grown to care about race for their lives against nature’s engine of destruction. I enjoyed Duane Johnson in San Andreas but at no point in that film did feel any of our main characters was in danger. It was more a superhero film than a disaster movie. While in The Wave its nail-biting moment after nail-biting moment with charters that are completely believable.
Note: Both San Andreas and The Wave have that over used scene of someone giving CPR to a person who clearly should be dead but they keep trying even after someone tells to stop that it’s too late, and then of course that person suddenly is alive and coughing up water. It was effective back in1989 with James Cameron’s The Abyss but it’s one clichéd scene that needs to be retired.
Though this film does have the tropes and clichés of its brethren it still manages to be an exhilarating feast of action as well as emotion while also providing visual spectacles for a fraction of the budget of its Hollywood contemporaries. That’s something to be proud of because as he not only nails what fans of the genre wants he also populates it with intelligent characters we can honestly root for.
Note: This is Norway’s first foray into the disaster genre and after watching The Wave and 2012’s South Korean disaster flick The Tower I hope we get more and more countries stepping up to the plate to show Hollywood how it can be done and done well.