Early this morning I finally saw Roar Uthaug‘s The Wave (Magnolia, 3.4), a $6.5 million Norweigan disaster film that’s easily as good as any similar-type American pic. Set in the real-life village of Geiranger, it’s about a married geologist dad named Kristian (Kristoffer Joner), trying to warn authorities about a possible tsunami (caused by a landslide into an adjacent fjord) that will drown the town. Every man, woman, dog and cat who hasn’t gotten the hell out will meet their maker.
Nobody listens, of course. In fact Kristian’s soon-to-be-former geological colleagues (he’s taken a better-paying job with an oil company) roll their eyes and give each other sullen looks. You know those looks, right? And the penalty for them? Any character in a disaster film who ignores scientific warnings and in fact embraces a blase attitude must suffer a horrible death when the bad thing finally happens. He/she must pay through the nose and whine like a dog and die badly.
When the landslide alarm sounds at the 45-minute mark, the locals and tourists have ten minutes (i.e, 600 seconds) to make it to high ground. Several drownings are assured. Kristian gets his young daughter (Edith Haagenrud-Sande) to safety but his wife (Ane Dahl Torp) and teenaged son (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) are stuck inside a four-story hotel when the wave hits, and urgently need rescuing.
The story is somewhat reminiscent of Irwin Allen‘s The Towering Inferno. Kristian is a bit like Paul Newman‘s architect, a smart guy trying to warn everyone, and then nobly struggling to save lives after disaster strikes.
I had three problems with Uthaug’s film, and I’m afraid they’re quite severe.
Problem #1 is that Kristian is too raggedy looking (he’s one of those guys who can’t pull off the two-week beardo look — he needs a shave). He’s not cool and focused like Newman, but acts like someone who needs to take Klonopin. When he’s ranting about the coming tsunami he’s like a character out of Nurse Ratched’s psycho ward. And he’s always got this stupid look on his face that says “oh my dear God, I’m so scared and upset but at the same time I have to do something to save my children and my fellow villagers!!” Wells to Joner: Will you go fuck yourself, please? Just grim up, be a man and do the brave, studly stuff. Spare us your tearful looks and your damn drippy emotions.
Problem #2 is Uthaug’s failure to show precisely how much of the town has been buried after the tsunami hits and whether the water has receded or not. Without an occasional establishing shot the audience has no bearings, no sense of what’s possible in terms of options or escape.
Problem #3 is a strategic decision made by Kristian’s hotel-manager wife (Torp) to retreat with her son inside a cellar-level bomb shelter when the tsunami hits. With most of the village suddenly underwater, does it make any sense to take shelter in an enclosed space that will be deeper below the water level that most other structures and which will obviously be tough to escape from once the flooding has maxed out?
With a mountain of water approaching the thing to do, it seems, is to run upstairs and hope for the best. Maybe grab a rowboat or a kayak or a large wooden table to float away on. Anything is better than hiding in an underground bomb shelter, which probably hasn’t been waterproofed.
The Wave was made for a lousy $6.5 million, which might equal the wardrobe bill on one of Roland Emmerich‘s disaster films. Pic reportedly sold around 800,000 tickets in Norway when it opened in 2015, grossing roughly $8.2 million and becoming Norway’s highest-grossing film that year.