The disaster movie has become synonymous with big-effects spectacle like 2012 in Hollywood. Because of the budgetary restrictions, its hard to imagine films from other markets really breaking in to the genre in a major way. In that sense, Norway’s The Wave is very impressive, making its budget count in every way. However, the types of films it emulates maybe aren’t the best to take cues from.
The Wave takes place in a small Norwegian town in the mountains under threat of tsunami due to rockslides. It’s very much a San Andreas fault type of situation, which maybe makes it less surprising that it follows roughly the exact story beats of last year’s The Rock-starring San Andreas (which wasn’t that bad!). Like that movie, it focuses almost strictly on one family, occasionally drifting to experts in a geological center. The father of the family, Kristian, merges the two worlds, as the head geologist on his last day at the office before moving out of this tsunami-prone town. The Wave doesn’t stray from its cliches at all; Kristian notices something and tries to ring the alarm but is stopped because of politics, all the pieces come together after seeing a clip of Jenga, someone outruns a flood, noble sacrifices abound, etc. If The Wave’s goals were to imitate an American disaster movie, it certainly succeeds plotwise.
Where it diverges is its grimness. There is only one “disaster” scene in the movie, a tense and terrific ten minutes where the disaster in question is foreboding rather than in-your-face. Whether due to budgets or good filmmaking, the effects are limited to that scene. In its second half, The Wave is simply grim. It approaches effective horror occasionally, particularly in an flooding-room sequence that just misses the mark, but for the most part rubs your face in destruction and sadness. Which is fair, disasters are sad, but its hard to take too seriously when it still falls into all the spectacle-disaster movie cliches.
The main sequence of The Wave is absolutely exceptional filmmaking, but its surrounded on either side by a not-so-great movie. The good stuff scattered throughout makes The Wave a worthwhile curiousity, and it certainly has more merit than the likes of Dante’s Peak, but it falls well short of transcending the genre.
Bolgen (The Wave) (2016)
Dir. Roar Uthag
Starring Kristoffer Joner, Ane Dahl Torp, and Fridjotz Saheim
Rotten Tomatoes (79%)