“This whole country is one big rock”
Roar Uthaug’s disaster film The Wave (Norwegian: Bølgen, 2015) depicts an event that is expected to happen in Møre og Romsdal, a county in Western Norway, at some point in the future. Scientists forecast a landslide-induced tsunami that will eviscerate the local town. And so, the film serves as both a warning, and a humbling reminder of nature’s ferocity.
Kristian (Kristoffer Joner), a local geologist, is preparing to move to Stavanger with his family. As they say their goodbyes, strange data is recorded below the mountain looming over the town, alerting Kristian to possible dangers. As his paranoia grows, so does everyone’s defensiveness. Soon, time runs out, leaving people scrambling for safety as an 85-meter tidal wave descends upon the town.
The film takes its time building up the family dynamics, weaving the emotional ties that cause tension when the eventual cataclysm occurs. To complement the initial edenlike state of the life, the beauty of the surrounding nature is propelled to the foreground, especially the density of the forest and the shimmer strummed along the fjord’s crystal-blue water.
While much of that comes down to Norway’s inherent allure, John Christian Rosenlund’s cinematography is given free reign when the sun goes down, plunging the screen into a mesmerising mix of sapphire blue and beams of gold. This marriage of colours remains consistent throughout, toying with our perception of dimension and depth in the dark – bringing to mind the encompassing body of water that is heaved off the ground. In fact, the growling wave resembles something Njǫrd, the Norse god of the wind and the sea, would spit out in his fury. It crawls towards the humans like a ravenous beast, liquidating the man-made structures at its feet.
Magnus Beite’s music congeals the wave’s final punch, often resembling the distant blast of a Viking horn, slowed and reverberated to give nature’s roar its hairy pitch. It also serves to agitate the audience, layering sinister sounds on top of the characters’ panicked shrieks. Kristian seems to be the prime source of tension from the very beginning, with his role heightened by the human tendency to lean towards mania.
Ultimately, it alienates people, but influences lives. The contrast between his erratic behaviour and the others’ stoic skepticism is as tremulous as the mountain itself. Kristoffer Joner personifies stress is all its sweat-inducing morbidness, becoming the human equivalent of the rattling mountain.
The Wave‘s hidden trick is its leap from the natural disaster to the ghoulishness of its human component. In fact, the true horrors roll in after the climactic wave, presenting the unexpected treat of duplex dangers. Thomas Bo Larsen, who appears on-screen as a Danish tourist, injects a shocking dose of horror into his brief appearance. The dimness and moisture of the room he finds himself trapped in with Kristian’s wife and son seems to scratch away everything but his animalistic tendencies, reminding us that fear makes inadvertent monsters of us all.
For those charmed by the Norwegian production’s minimalist style, there is a sequel, John Andreas Andersen’s The Quake (2018). However, the continuation of the story is more of a character study than a plunge into the horrors of the eventual catastrophe. To put it simply, The Quake is worth considering for its analysis of the family’s strained dynamics, but not much else.