I do enjoy a well-done disaster flick, not to be confused with a flick that’s a disaster. Historically this genre is the province of Hollywood, with studios laying out big bucks for special effects, but the digital revolution has broken borders. Some of the premier SFX houses are spread around the globe, like Weta Workshop in New Zealand. A great example of disaster films breaking out of Hollywood is 2015’s The Wave, which is now available on Netflix.
Just as American films focus on possible disasters in the United States like the recent San Andreas (earthquakes) and Into the Storm (tornadoes), this Norwegian film deals with a disaster on the home front – in this case a massive landslide into a narrow fjord that sets off a mammoth tsunami. Indeed, the film opens by citing earlier instances of this taking place. It then focuses on the town of Geiranger, nestled at the end of a fjord, that will have ten minutes to evacuate if a cliff-face down the fjord lets go and crashes into the water. In this, the film is factually correct, and the director was guided by the actual geology of an event that will happen. The only question is when.
Geologist Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) has been working at a station that monitors the mountainsides, but he’s now taken a job with an oil exploration company and his family is preparing to move. When he returns from a preparatory trip to their new apartment in Oslo, he finds his wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp) fixing the sink while their teenaged son Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) and younger daughter Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande) watching. Over dinner Kristian explains the technologically advanced apartment they’ll have when they move, though Idun says she will miss the soul of their older house.
The next day, Kristian goes in for a final time to the Early Warning Center, located over 100 meters above sea level. There’s a particularly unstable section that they are monitoring remotely with both sensors and video. While he’s there a warning goes off about a drop in ground water levels, but when they check the video and the other monitors everything seems fine. The next day Kristian is leaving town with Sondre and Julia, while Idun has a last day at the hotel she manages in Geiranger and will follow later. He suddenly makes a connection with what caused the change in levels and why the monitors didn’t register a problem, so he turns around and heads to the Early Warning Center.
Oftentimes Hollywood disaster films begin with a bang to get the adrenalin pumping and to foreshadow the larger thrills to come. For example, with the two movies cited above, San Andreas begins with a white-knuckle helicopter rescue while Into The Storm has a nearly invisible night-time tornado take out a car with four students in it. The Wave does a slower build, focusing on the family and people they know, so we become close to these characters. They’re completely real, not the larger than life heroic types that often populate this genre. The term “disaster flick” inherently gives away some of the plot – bad things will happen – but the films usually split into two sub-categories: 1) the focus is on the disaster, or 2) the movie is a drama that happens to include a disaster. The Wave is firmly in the second sub-category.
Director Roar Uthaug has worked only in his native Norway, though that will be changing. He’s been tapped to helm the new Tomb Raider film due in 2018 that will star Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft. The Wave only had a limited release in the US, common for a non-English film, but in Norway it sold over 800,000 tickets. Considering Norway has a population of around 5 million, that’s the equivalent of 1 in 6 people in the country seeing the film. That’s akin to a US movie having a domestic box office of approximately $500 million – about the domestic gross of The Dark Knight, which is 6th on the all-time domestic box office list.
Where many disaster movies feel over-bloated and usually have a running time in excess of two hours, The Wave is a lean 105 minutes. In the midst of the destruction – and the effects are stunning – it doesn’t lose sight of the human level. If you like this genre and have Netflix (or find it on another streaming service) I highly recommend you check out this film. It is well worth the viewing.