It was a double cinema trip to the London Film Festival for me last Friday and as well as seeing Black Mass (read my review here), I also attended a screening of this Scandinavian disaster film, also submitted as Norway’s entrant for Best Foreign Language Film at next year’s Oscars.
The premise plays on the scientific community’s awareness that there are unstable mountains across Norway, which are under constant monitoring and which will one day inevitably collapse, as has happened to others in the past, resulting in a tsunami that would devastate everything in its path. This is quite topical following, earlier in 2015, the first gathering for the world’s leading researchers in this area in Oslo. The film even begins with real photos of previous disasters, with specific reference to the 1905 Loen disaster. The question then – what would happen if another such event occurred today?
The story is set in the mountainside community of Geiranger, by the Akerneset mountain, popular with tourists for the beauty of the scenery of the surrounding Fjords, which are beautifully shot and brought to the screen by director Roar Uthaug. It does indeed seem to be a truly tranquil place to live and visit. Geologist Kristian (Kristoffer Jones) is however moving away to a new job in the oil industry in the city, together with his wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp), who works in the local hotel and his young daughter and teenage son. However on his last day (cheesy I agree), the early warning centre at which he works pick up some strange movement within the mountainside. No one else seems worried, but Kristian has a sixth sense that something could be very wrong – which of course it is.
The first half of the film builds the unease, as you see the beauty and peace of the area, get to know the dynamics of the various relationships, including not just Kristian’s family, but that of his co-workers and others in the town, while all the time waiting for the inevitable wave of the film’s title to arrive. Kristian’s son says how he doesn’t want to leave, as it is safe in Geiranger. Little does he know what nature has in store for them.
To say this isn’t a Hollywood big budget movie, the effects and visuals used to bring the rockslide and resulting tsunami to life are excellent, as the wave sweeps its way towards the fleeing residents and tourist with terrifying realism and intensity. The wave doesn’t actually take up much screen time, with the remainder of the film focusing on Kristian’s fight to find his wife and son (his daughter is with him at the time of the wave), uncertain whether they are even alive.
Leading the cast Kristoffer Jones and Ane Dahl Torp are very convincing in their roles and both of their characters feel fully-rounded and are people with whom you can connect. This is of course crucial if you are to care about their plight for the rest of the film. In fact a lot of the characters here are likeable, whether the dedicated team Kristian works with or their neighbours.
As the events of the film unfold and people fight for survival, we are also shown that panic and our desperation to survive can bring out the good in some people (one hotel guest risks her life for Kristian’s son, whom she has never even met, not to mention Kristian’s heroics himself), but can also make others act in ways they would never normally behave (perfectly highlighted when some of the characters are trapped in the hotel basement).
It’s also quite a short film (under 2 hours) and so there is never time for the action to drag or the pace to slow.
Director Roar Uthaug has certainly produced a convincing, engaging and thrilling film, with only a fraction of American budgets (around £4 million), proving that you don’t need lots of cash to make a great film. If you have the opportunity to see this film, I can definitely recommend it.
The Wave (Bolgen) appears to be screening at various London cinemas this week. It’s unclear if it will see a wider release in the UK, but you should certainly keep an eye out for it. Magnolia Pictures has now acquired the U.S. rights for a possible early 2016 release. Watch the international trailer here.