The Wave is a Swedish/Norwegian production, a disaster movie set amongst some of the most beautiful natural scenery one can imagine, and a thoroughly entertaining film which is perhaps, like The Tunnel, only let down by its reliance on those over-familiar tropes which disaster movies always seem to rely on. So we are introduced to a family unit and the central protagonist of the film, Geologist Kristian Eikjord (Kristoffer Joner) who alone seems to pick up on signs of an impending disaster and is finally vindicated, sadly, when a mountain pass collapses into the fjord Geiranger, creating a deadly tidal wave 85-metres high that rolls down to a scenic town (and the hotel where his wife works).
So as far as tropes go, we have Kristian’s unconvinced work comrades, who fail to heed his warnings. We have his marital friction with his beautiful wife Idun (Kathrine Thorborg Jo) who resents him prioritising his work over his family (and possibly also the new job he has taken, which they are in the process of moving home for), and his tense relationship with his teenage son Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) and his younger daughter Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande, who possibly steals the movie). Inevitably when the disaster occurs and Kristian is proven right, his family is split up and he has to try to ensure their safety by going into danger and saving them from the episodic dramas, surviving all sorts of related dangers ensuing from the tsunami.
While the film feels formulaic and over-familiar (its a lot like the rather glossier San Andreas, but lots of others too) it wins-out thanks to its refreshing, frankly, European setting and its good cast which doesn’t really fit the usual Hollywood mould- none more so than Joner, whose hound-dog everyman is a very ordinary-looking scruffy hero.
Technically the film is pretty well accomplished, with some surprisingly successful visual effects and convincing physical effects, like semi-submerged sets, water damage etc. The episodic nature is just the way things tend to be in these films (we have to get from here to there, and we have to get past this obstacle there etc) and its perhaps unfortunate that the film finally just oversteps the drama with a nod to The Abyss and a drowning/death scene that really slips, as the one The Abyss did, into overwrought nonsense that threatens to spoil everything.
But on the whole, The Wave works and was successful enough to warrant a sequel, The Quake, in which Kristian’s family find themselves at odds with yet another natural disaster…
So three years have past and the Eikjord family unit is more fractured (maybe an unfortunate description, considering what comes) than ever: Idun is divorcing Kristian, who has remained in Gerainger, ridden with guilt for having not successfully warned everyone about the disaster depicted in The Wave, while she with the children have moved to the safer (yeah, good luck with that) location of Oslo where she has a new job in a plush high-rise hotel in the city (whoops). Kristian is finally called to Oslo when a colleague who had reached out to him with vague concerns is killed in an Oslo Tunnel collapse. Investigating his colleagues death with the help of the deceased man’s daughter Marit (Kathrine Thorborg Jo), Kristian discovers indications that a major earthquake is about to strike and as usual, nobody believes him until it happens.
The problem with The Quake is really the same as that of The Wave, except that unfortunately for this film, the sense of over-familiarity is only intensified by it happening to the same family (natural disasters for the Eikjords what bad vacations were for the Griswolds). In what is possibly an acknowledgement of this, the raised stakes here actually result in a real cost, and not all of the Eikjord clan survive this one, a surprise loss that doesn’t really land as possibly intended, but, you know, it at least answers some of the plausibility issues some viewers may have.
Like The Wave, the technical side is very accomplished, and the set-pieces are largely just as thrilling as in the first movie, but they do seem more ridiculous/Hollywood than the more grounded reality of the first film (allusions to San Andreas only more pronounced, here). Curiously, while The Wave had a certain unwise nod to The Abyss, this film has a particular set-piece that features a certain nod to a moment in the second Jurassic Park movie that pushes the term ‘homage’ perhaps a step too far, which is unfortunate because I don’t know why these two films felt the need to nod back to Hollywood blockbusters at all. The films are far better when being more their own thing, but maybe it was inevitable making films like this and feeling the need to compete with glossier Hollywood product.
Both films are pretty good though and well worth anyone’s time, particularly if one has an affinity to the disaster movie genre. I only wonder what the plausibility is of Kristian turning his hand to amateur astronomy and discovering an asteroid on collision course with Norway…