It took turning to the gorgeous Geirangerfjord of Norway to discover one of the best disaster films I’ve ever seen in 2015’s The Wave, or the cooler Norwegian title, Bølgen. And that’s not a wild claim by any stretch. Norway submitted the film to the Academy Awards as its pick for Best Foreign Language Film. It failed to get nominated, however. If I was making a list, this film would easily be in the top five.
As with any disaster flick, there’s a simple premise here: Geirangerfjord’s mountain is going to crack, cause a landslide and the resulting tsunami of 80-meters (or 260-some feet) will devastate the town that lives there, as it previously had on numerous occasions in the early 1900s. The old adage applies here: It’s not a matter of if, but when.
Fortunately-ish for the town, Kristian Eikjord (played by Kristoffer Joner), a geologist who supposedly is leaving for the oil industry, spots the problem and can’t resist trying to sound the alarm. Meanwhile, his family, wife Idun (played by Ane Dahl Torp), son Sondre (played by Jonas Hoff Ottebro) and daughter Julia (played by Edith Haagenrud-Sandre) are caught up in the middle of it all, like much of the rest of the town.
For only a $6 million budget, which I can’t stress enough is pennies for a disaster flick (for a contrast, famed disaster flick director Roland Emmerich’s 2009 film 2012 had a budget of $200 million; yes, $200 million), the special effects director Roar Uthaug and his cinematographer John Christian Rosenlund are able to pull off are incredible. It helps to be filming in the unbelievably utopic-like Norway, but the scenes of chaos look fantastic. Honestly, all the scenes look better than much of anything Emmerich and his $200 million budget and CGI are able to bring to the table.
There is so much heart in the film. Again, the best disaster films (or any film, really) makes us care about the characters and therefore, we care when the disaster falls upon their heads. We get to spend time with the family before the crap hits the fan. In fact, the opening scene once Kristian gets home is finding his wife dealing with a leaky pipe under the sink. That’s some fun foreshadowing there. We also see Kristian and Sondre having a heart-to-heart about Sondre not wanting to move away for his dad’s new job. We see Kristian and Idun have a playful romantic moment in the kitchen. Or that the daughter, Julia wants to go back to the house one last time and so, we get a lovely father-daughter moment.
Meanwhile though, Kristian can’t help himself. He knows something is wrong and goes back to the geology center to express his concerns. Arvid (played by Fridtjov Såheim), Kristian’s boss, plays the role of the typical disaster movie character wherein he’s disbelieving of Kristian and lacks any sense of urgency. “That’s can’t be right,” he tells Kristian, and that’s terribly frustrating. He’s also worried, much like the mayor in Jaws, about the tourist money being negatively affected by sounding a false alarm. To be fair, he regains some credibility later on by not only issuing a code red of sorts to warn the town, but sacrificing himself to save Jacob (played by Arthur Berning) at the “crap hitting the fan” moment when the mountain’s rockslide begins.
The first shot of the incoming tsunami toward Geiranger is beautiful and ominous. At this point, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to Magnus Beite, who put together the perfect tension-filled music as the soundtrack to destruction.
One of the fatal flaws exposing the lack of preparation in the town is the up-the-hill evacuation plan. Sure, if you make it up the hill, you will be safe. But the time from alarm bells to making it up the hill before the gigantic tsunami hits isn’t long and if you do get near the hill, it’s filled with vehicle congestion leaving you as a sitting duck, as Anna (played by Silje Breivik) found out the hard way. However, again, that scene where the water comes up behind Anna and Kristian in the car, as seen above, my goodness what a shot!
But even that’s not as frustrating as what unfolds in the hotel. So, Idun works at the big tourist hotel in town and Sondre stays with her when Kristian and Julia go back to the house. Sondre leaves his room to skate around in the basement with his headphones on. When the sirens sound, he doesn’t hear them. But how?! Despite the headphones, those sirens are loud and I find it hard to believe he didn’t hear anything. That sets up Idun and another couple not taking the bus that’s going to the hill, as she’s searching for Sondre. It’s actually a good thing she didn’t since the bus didn’t get close to evacuating and everyone died.
When the tsunami hits the hotel, again, it’s an extraordinary showcase of special effects prowess on a limited budget. The hotel legitimately looks like it’s being smashed with gushing water. Idun, Sondre and Phillip (played by Thomas Bo Larsen), one half of the couple, make it into a bomb shelter narrowly missing being drowned to death. However, the predicament isn’t over. First, there’s the fact of water coming into the door, and second, there’s the fact of Phillip being a crazed man.
All three make it to a ventilation spot up in the ceiling to escape the rising water, but for some reason, Phillip begins acting crazed and trying to drown both Idun and Sondre. Idun, my favorite character in the film even over Kristian, snares Phillip between her legs and drowns him. She wasn’t messing around.
Meanwhile, Kristian makes his way to the hotel and after thinking they’re dead, they hear him banging on a pipe and bang back to let him know they are there. That moment almost made me cry, as there was such relief.
In rescuing his wife and child, Kristian nearly drowns, but Sondre keeps doing CPR until he lives. I thought for sure they were going to kill off Kristian and I was going to be mad since he’d just been through so much.
The reason Idun is my favorite character and the unsung hero of the movie is that first, she tries her best to get everyone out of the hotel (and why aren’t they reacting with more urgency to the sirens? Perhaps because they’re dumb tourists?) and then, despite the danger, goes back into the hotel to save her son. Then, she kills a man to rescue her son again! She was so steely cool throughout this movie.
At the end, when the three reunite with Julia I wanted to damn-near cry again! That was lovely. I’m like yes, these characters I cared about made it! They survived!
If you haven’t had this film on your radar, I highly recommend it. Even if you’re not typically a fan of disaster movies, this one is worth going out of your way to see. I was filled with all kinds of tension and dread; I couldn’t imagine viewing this film as a Norwegian. No wonder it rippled through theaters like a wave.