Stars: Kristoffer Joner, Fridtjov Såheim, Ane Dahl Torp, Thomas Bo Larsen, Fridtjov Såheim, Jonas Hoff Oftebro, Arthur Berning, Edith Haagenrud-Sande, Lado Hadzic, Herman Bernhoft, Silje Breivik | Written by John Kåre Raake, Harald Rosenløw-Eeg | Directed by Roar Uthaug
In recent years Norway has been cranking out some fantastic genre films – Troll Hunter, Dead Snow and its sequel, Rare Exports, Thale and the Cold Prey series. All of which have been takes on American genre fare (zombies, slasher movies) or based on folk tales (Rare Exports, Thale). Until now. Director Roar Uthaug, the man behind the three Cold Prey movies, turns his hand from the horrors of the slasher movie to the horrors of nature with The Wave, a disaster movie of real-life proportions…
In the small mountain community of Geiranger, geologist Kristian works at an early warning centre keeping an eye out for rockslides causing potential dangers. The last catastrophe was in 1905 and everyone knows it’s only a matter of time before the next Big One hits. And once the boulders start falling, the tight-knit population and the tourists it caters for has just 10 minutes to get to higher ground. When the sensors go down on on Kristian’s last day at work, he becomes obsessed by what caused the sensors to fail, what could happen to Geiranger, what might happen to the people living there, what DOES happen.
Now disaster movies are nothing new. Hollywood churns out a new one every other year, or so it seems, each with a budget larger than the last. But The Wave actually makes the disaster movie scary again. In one sequence – as the tsunami rises up and swallows Geiranger (pictured above) – there’s more tension and more horror than in a dozen of the Roland Emmerich-style disaster movies we’re now accustomed to. And Uthaug and co. managed to create that on a smattering of the budget Hollywood uses (which was reportedly 50m Norwegian Krone, about £4 million)
Part of the reason why The Wave succeeds in making things scary again is that we truly care for the characters. Uthaug spends 45 of the films 105 minute running time on his core cast of characters – we get to know them, we experience who they are, all the while knowing that something is coming. That mix of characterisation and tension is a perfect example of disaster filmmaking at its very (and I do mean very) best. Of course no disaster movie can stray far from the cliches and tropes of the genre, and The Wave certainly doesn’t, instead it uses them to much greater effect than it’s Hollywood counterparts. And unlike more mainstream efforts it doesn’t shy away from showing the grisly aftermath of the tsunami either!
It would seem that having fresh eyes on a well-worn genre has revitalised it immensely. The story may be the same but the stakes feel higher and the tension is most definitely more believable – proving that you don’t need a $250 million budget to tell a great disaster movie story, just a great script and a little movie magic.
There’s a reason The Wave was submitted by Norway for Best Foreign Language Film at this years Oscars – it’s that damn good!