Mother Nature is a bitch!

If there’s one lesson we can learn from the movies, it’s that.

Go for a walk in the wilderness and you will end up having to use a penknife to hack off the arm you get trapped under a rock. Go sailing and you will end up in the middle of a storm with no radio and a leaky boat. Go swimming and a shark will eat you. Ocean cruise? Boat capsizes and Shelley Winters is your only hope. Jungle river cruise? Great big snake’ll swallow you whole. Climb a mountain and you will be caught in an avalanche. Visit a picturesque mountain and the local peak will volcanically explode. Crash a perfectly good aeroplane and you will survive just long enough to be eaten by a bear or a pack of ravenous wolves. Even staying home in the city is no longer an option as you will be caught in a Sharknado. Let’s just face it – Mother Nature is a bitch, she’s constantly in heat and only death will satisfy her!

So ridiculously exciting I’m still breathless a fortnight later, Norwegian disaster movie The Wave gives us fair warning of the impending destruction and mayhem that Mother Nature is poised to unleash, opening with vintage newsreel footage from the ‘30s of the disaster wrought when a massive rockslide triggered a tsunami that engulfed and destroyed the small Norwegian town of Tafjord, killing the inhabitants. This was no one-off, freak incident however, similar devastating events occurring in the 1900s and the 60s responsible for the deaths of scores of people. History has a way of repeating itself and Norway has several hundred precarious mountains poised to just slide into the fjord. If it happened before, it can happen again…

Nestled on the banks of the fjord, the gorgeous little town of Geiranger is a tourist Mecca, attracting visitors from all over the world, a bustling, vibrant little town lying in the baleful shadow of local mountain Åkerneset, it’s crumbling unstable face under constant surveillance by dedicated geologist Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) and his team at Geiranger’s early warning centre where they keep a wary eye on the mountain, watching for any signs of the fatal rock slide that will cause them to trigger the warning siren, alerting the town that a lethal wave is on its way.

It’s Kristian’s last day though. He’s leaving for a lucrative new job in the oil industry, packing up his family, wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp); sullen, skaterboy son Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) and cute young daughter Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande), and moving to Stavanger. Unfortunately, Kristian may have decided to leave just one day too late. There’s ominous rumblings from the mountain and conflicting readings from the seismic detectors. Too late, he realises that the long-dreaded avalanche is about to happen and, as the warning siren pierces the still Norwegian night, alerting Geiranger’s inhabitants that they have just ten minutes to make it to high ground before the town is engulfed by a deadly 300 foot wall of water. And while Kristian and Julia are spending a last nostalgic night in the old house, Idun and Sondre are trapped across town in Geiranger’s hotel where Idun is a receptionist. With the clock ticking, can Kristian save his family?

A lean study in sustained tension, Uthaug piles on the pressure for the first hour or so of The Wave, giving us the space to get to know and care about Kristian and his family even as our everyman hero is figuring out what’s about to happen and trying in vain to make his sceptical colleagues listen to his dire warnings and there’s some wonderful incidental details heightening the action; Kristian’s sense of foreboding solidifying into belief as he watches his son play Jenga on his ever-present phone, flocks of birds evacuating the area, one of the geologists in the early warning centre too busy watching a slasher movie on his laptop to notice the red blinking warning light behind him alerting him to the impending catastrophe.

We know the almost Biblical disaster is coming, we just don’t know when and it’s a testament to Uthaug’s skill that he defers us the guilty pleasure of destruction for so long before finally unleashing the titular tsunami, a grey/green roiling monster that destroys everything its path – trees, buildings, cars, boats – as Kristian, Julia and their neighbours abandon their cars in a traffic jam and desperately try to outrun the hungry wave, to make it uphill to higher ground, Uthaug deploying the movie’s Dolby digital sound to bowel-clenching effect as the water rumbles and roars, director of photography John Christian Rosenlund capturing the panic, death and destruction in loving detail.

Tense and exciting with an almost palpable atmosphere of impending doom, The Wave can go toe-to-toe with the most spectacular Hollywood disaster fare and wash them all away. And it’s refreshing to see a kid in a disaster movie, Edith Haagenrud-Sande’s Julia, that you don’t automatically want dead. Jonas Hoff Oftebro’s sullen teenager admittedly I could take or leave.

Movie Review: The Wave
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