'The Wave': TIFF Review

The Wave - H 2015
Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
An exotic edge-of-seater plays on the beauty and terror of nature.

A massive rockslide creates a tsunami in Scandinavia’s first disaster movie, featuring top Norwegian stars Kristoffer Joner and Ane Dahl Torp.

It was about time Scandinavia made its first disaster movie, and the Norwegian tsunami thriller The Wave (Bolgen) makes up for the long wait. Spectacular scenery of fjords and craggy, snow-capped peaks proves as beautiful to look at as it is deadly, when a mountain crumbles in a massive rockslide and creates a cataclysmic tsunami. Though not a perfect storm like the 2012 tsunami hit The Impossible, which was based on a true survivors’ story and featured Hollywood stars, The Wave is a still a thrilling ride as it hits every major genre note with a Norwegian accent. Directed by Roar Uthaug on a €6 million budget, it should have little trouble wracking the nerves of foreign audiences, who get exactly what’s promised.

The story takes place in the small community of Geiranger, nestled in the mountains, where a close-knit family lives on a remote fjord. Geologist Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) works at an early warning center with a crew of pros whose job it is to keep one eye on the mountain and another on a big red panic button, should worst come to worst. And obviously it will. The last catastrophic rockslide dates back to 1905 and it’s only a question of time before it happens again. Once the rocks start falling, the population will have just 10 minutes to vamoose to higher ground or die, so set your stopwatch.

See more The Scene at TIFF 2015 (Photos)

As the curtain rises, the head-in-the-clouds Kristian and his very capable, practical wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp) are packing and preparing to move to the city, where he has accepted a job with an oil company. Little Julia is fine with the change, but their teenage son Sondre (Jonas Oftebro) is resentful at being torn away from the astounding beauty of his home, where he feels so safe. Little does he suspect how impermanent life is on the pretty fjord.

The screenplay uses the first hour to build the quiet before the storm. While Idun goes to work in a big tourist hotel filled with unsuspecting guests and memories of the Overlook, Kristian bids farewell to his four coworkers on the mountain. There he has his first presentiment that something is wrong. Water levels dropping, monitors shutting down…

Of course they take him for a madman and refuse to evacuate the town at the height of tourist season, but these being serious Scandis, they also send a search mission out to see what’s up. No towering egos or profit-motivated bureaucracy here; no phone calls to Mr. President. This leads to a breath-taking helicopter flight over a fjord to the “Eagle’s Nest” hill station, where Kristian suits up and expertly lowers himself into a bottomless crevice. Just as he feared, their thick lead wires have been cut through by the shifting mountain.

By now disaster is around the corner, and it arrives at dawn with a vengeance.  Using hand-held camerawork for a realistic feeling, Uthaug and his D.P. John Cristian Rosenlund paint the sky black with millions of cubic meters of rock slamming into the water. In a dusty world lit by car headlights, the approach of a two- hundred-foot wave careening between the mountain gorges is sheer terror.

Though they have little to add to familiar genre themes, Uthaug and the screenwriters make the most of the unique location, which lends itself to jaw-dropping vistas from every camera angle. It's an apt setting for an abrupt transition from the soul-stirring peace of nature to the unstoppable destruction of a monster wave that roars through the gorge, lit by the eerie light of car headlights. The SFX are convincingly terrifying and involving.

The cast is headlined by two of Norway’s leading actors, who give the characters unusual depth for a genre film. Joner plays Kristian as an excitable, absent-minded mensch who forgets he has left the kids in the car for hours at a time. Athletic enough to scale rockface and casually vault into dumpsters when need be, he’s somewhere between hero and average guy. Dahl Torp holds her own in an emergency, remaining lucid in a flooded bomb shelter that will give the claustrophobic nightmares. In his first major scene role, young Ofterbro hits a realistic teenage note.  

Production company: Fantefilm Fiksjon
Cast: Kristoffer Joner, Ane Dahl Torp, Jonas Oftebro
Director: Roar Uthaug
Screenwriters: John Kare Raake, Harald Rosenlow Eeg
Producers:  Martin Sundland, Are Heidenstrom
Director of photography: John Cristian Rosenlund
Production designer: Nina Nordqvist
Music: Magnus Beite
Editor: Christian Siebenherz
Sales Agent: Trust Nordisk
105 minutes