Unless you attended film festivals, you would never know other countries produce their share of genre films just like Hollywood. Thrillers, sci-fi, action, buddy cop films, family cartoons and such are par for the course but few get past the Iron Curtain of North American distribution.
The Norwegian disaster film, “The Wave” (“Bølgen”), is an exception.
Director Roar Uthuag — now would I make up that name? — assembles everything a Hollywood studio would demand: stock characters, massive CGI, impressive scenery, last-minute rescues and a family in jeopardy to tell this tale of a tsunami racing across a fjord toward a peaceful resort.
“The Wave” is a serviceable as well as credible disaster movie bearing some resemblance to the 2012 studio tale, “The Impossible,” about true-life survivors of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The effects are impressive and the stunts especially underwater are certainly up to Hollywood standards.
The Geiranger Fjord in Norway’s Sunnmøre region is one of that country’s most visited tourist sites. Yet it is under constant threat from the mountain Åkerneset, which could erode any minute into the fjord. Any such collapse would produce a tsunami that would hit the town of Geiranger at the end of the fjord in about ten minutes.
After a mini-documentary about previous tsunamis on Norway’s west coast, the movie establishes that an early warning center sits high above the fjord with monitoring devices and cameras everywhere on that looming mountain.
The story begins on the last day at work for its geologist Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) before he moves onto a new gig with an oil company. As you can see, disaster movie clichés know no national boundaries.
But something is not right on the mountain Kristian has studied and lived near for years. Substrata are shifting and gauges warn of lowering water levels.
Besides it’s tourist season.
Meanwhile his wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp) is getting the kids packed and ready to move. The elder boy (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) isn’t so keen about leaving Geiranger while the very young daughter (Edith Haagenrud-Saheim) is convinced tension between her parents — Idun too is upset with Kristian’s premonitions — means certain divorce.
Idun works at the main tourist hotel right in the flood path, of course, and must stay on another couple of days at work if only for the movie to separate the family and create multiple rescue missions.
Static shots moments before the avalanche feature empty hotel corridors, the son skateboarding interior corridors with headphones on, father and daughter settling in at the old house and then a glass accidentally knocked over.
The collapse of Åkerneset and the subsequent wave are well done and not lingered upon as no doubt a Hollywood director would be tempted to do. The concentration is on human reactions, at the warning center, in the mountain crevasse, in the family’s home, at the hotel and with panicky neighbors who, despite living there for generations, somehow are unprepared for the inevitable.
Everything that can go wrong does, but the film’s only real concern is its family of four. Others lose lives without the film pausing for more than a moment.
Disaster movies have never been opportunities for great acting and that remains the case here. Jones puts his rugged looks and apparent athletic ability to work as a scientist with a touch of Indiana Jones when it’s called for.
Meanwhile Dahl Torp is practical minded and not prone to panic as she must guide others including her son away from certain death.
Oftebro gets to strike a few poses of teenage defiance, not enough to play any significant role in the melodrama though, while Haagenrud-Saheim is mostly kept out of harm’s way so as to look blonde, cute and vulnerable.
Other actors barely register. More might have been done with the naysayers in the warning center though. Why is everyone so clueless? Is this their first day at work?
And, by the way, what happened to them after they so spectacularly failed to do their job? In this regard, the film shows little interest in tidying up subplots involving other characters, settling instead for brief shots of those who survived.
While the sound design is superb, Magnus Beite’s music tends to clue an audience as to what’s about to happen next, a common failing with studio composers as well.
Cinematographer John Cristian Rosenlund employs a handheld camera to considerable effect in the claustrophobic hotel interiors and a bomb shelter that might become a watery grave.
He also makes the Geiranger Fjord look so inviting you might want to book a trip. Just make sure you do so before the tsunami hits.
Opens: March 4, 2016 (Magnolia Pictures)
Production companies: Fuzz, Filmkraft, Storyline Studios, Piggy Bænk, Gimpville. Film i Väst, Copenhagen Film Fund
Cast: Kristoffer Joner, Ane Dahl Torp, Jonas Hoff Oftebro, Edith Haagenrud-Saheim
Director: Roar Uthaug
Screenwriters: John Kåre Raake, Harald Rosenløw Eeg
Producers: Martin Sundland, Are Heidenstrom
Director of photography: John Cristian Rosenlund
Production designer: Nina Nordqvist
Music: Magnus Beite
Editor: Christian Siebenherz
No rating, 105 minutes