In 2015, the Norwegian film industry put forth their first entry in the disaster genre with a film called The Wave (Bølgen) by director Roar Uthaug, which dealt with a rockslide-tsunami incident that wiped out a small community. Now, three years later, Norway is back at it with its sequel The Quake (Skjelvet), where a major earthquake may be about to strike Oslo. This sequel is directed by John Andreas Andersen, and though it does have some stunning visuals — as is required for a disaster film — it doesn’t quite capture the essence that made The Wave so good.
The Quake reintroduces us to Kristian Eikjord (Kristoffer Joner), the geologist who saved many lives when a tsunami devastated his hometown, and though he is now being honored as a hero, he isn’t much better off. We find Kristian living alone and suffering from a blend of survivor’s guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder; he even has a room dedicated to photos of the dead that would make a serial killer proud, and when his young daughter Julie (Edith Haagenrud-Sande) comes to visit — the family has broken up due to Kristian’s falling to pieces — he isn’t able to deal with her, so he quickly packs up her stuff and sends her back to her mom (Ane Dahl Torp).
You have to give the writers credit for tackling the subject matter of PTSD and trauma stemming from surviving a disaster, and the bulk of this film is about Kristian trying to reconnect with his family and putting the past behind him. Unfortunately, Mother Nature isn’t quite done with Kristian Eikjord, and soon our plucky but traumatized hero is running around trying to warn people of their impending doom, but once again, he is treated like Chicken Little and is completely ignored.
One of my bigger issues I had with the film Jaws 2 was in how the community of Amity Island basically turned their collective backs on Sheriff Brody, ignoring his warning that another killer shark had entered their waters, and they even end up firing this once-hero. Now, in that film, I can sort of understand the mindset of the islanders — their entire economy relying on the tourist trade, thus the idea of becoming known as a killer shark way-station would be a bad thing — but in the case of The Quake, you have a renowned geologist saying that a massive quake is about to wipe out the major metropolitan city of Oslo, so brushing him off as being a loon is a bit ridiculous. The hero being ignored by the authorities, to only later be proven right, is one of the oldest clichés in movie history, and the fact that this trope was also used previously in The Wave makes it even more tired and unbelievable here.
The film tries to use Kristian’s questionable sanity as the key reason for him being ignored, but there isn’t any evidence of Kristian running around prophesying doom, or even holding a “The End is Nigh” placard — maybe these moments hit the editing room floor — but what we do get is a frantic man logically pointing out the danger that threatens the lives of thousands of people, and then him being blithely ignored by government “expert” Johannes Løberg (Stig R. Amdam), who calmly informs Kristian that, “Our instruments have never been more precise,” and that there is no evidence to back up Kristian’s theories. This is all to set up the “I told you so” moment, but this government stooge is just a two-dimensional idiot and any moment with him seems a waste of screen time, there isn’t even a real proper payoff for the character. Lucky for Kristian, he encounters Marit Lindblom (Kathrine Thorborg Johansen), the daughter of an old colleague who recently died while investigating a highway tunnel collapse right outside of Oslo, and the two of them become unlikely partners as the disaster approaches.
Now for the good stuff. As much as I disliked the trotting out of the “Hero Ignored” trope, as it was tired in The Wave and doubly tiring in this outing, when the shit finally does hit the fan — after about a 75 minute wait — and the earthquake shakes the city of Oslo to its foundations, I was not in the least bit disappointed. It’s quite clear that a good portion of this film’s budget was spent on the special effects — both practical and visual — and the ground rolling and collapsing as skyscrapers shatter and topple all looks simply fantastic, but what makes the film stand above many of its Hollywood contemporaries is the amount of fear and tension it manages to build. When you see The Rock trying to save his daughter during the ravaging earthquake in San Andreas, there is never any doubt of the outcome — he’s The Rock, what could possibly go wrong — but in The Quake, not only are we stunned by the awe-inspiring destruction, but you actually fear for the lives of our protagonists. The film’s climax takes place inside a 34-story skyscraper, one that was hit by a neighbouring building and begins to fall apart itself, where we find Kristian and his wife trying to make it out of an elevator shaft while Julie and Marit do their best to not slide off the building’s rapidly canting top floor.
The film’s nail-biting final act is truly something to behold and rivals anything the big studios have put forth. Unfortunately, we still seem stuck with the theme of “Disasters will fix any relationship,” though this film does provide a darker answer to that trope, and we are still stuck with Kristian’s idiot kids, with Julie providing the standard moronic child-in-danger moments — her running into the building when told clearly to stay out being insanely dumb — and then we have Kristian’s son, now dating and in college, who was completely useless in The Wave and has even less of a purpose in this sequel.
The only other negative thing I can say about The Quake, which is otherwise a nice disaster film, is that when the disaster hits, with the city of Oslo crumbling into dust, the scope of danger doesn’t move much past Kristian’s family; these are the film’s protagonists, who we’ve become invested in, but we don’t see more than a couple of deaths during a quake that clearly would have killed thousands.
The Quake is an admirable entry in the disaster genre, and Kristoffer Joner, Ane Dahl Torp and Kathrine Thorborg all display serious dramatic chops in this outing, and I do look forward to Norway’s next natural disaster films, though I hope they give the Eikjord family a break.
The Quake (2018)
Movie Rank - 6.5/10
Director John Andreas Andersen brings a solid disaster movie to the table with The Quake, and Norway is really giving Hollywood a run for their money, we now just need them to give a rest to some of those cliché’s that have grown stale over the years.