'The Wave' has familiar disaster movie tropes in a Scandinavian setting

'Wave' centers on geologist Kristian (Kristoffer Joner), who along with his family must deal with a catastrophic event when a wave slams into their town.

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
Geologist Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) must fight to get villagers to higher ground in ‘The Wave.'

Are you ready for “The Wave,” the first Norwegian disaster movie? Depending on how you look at it, the notion that the Scandinavians are finally taking up a genre normally reserved for Hollywood schlockmeisters is cause for either elation or woe.

I’m sort of in the middle on this: Only a pointy-headed aesthete (which I occasionally am) would argue that Norwegians must stick to making small-scale, humancentric dramas. On the other hand, I’m not exactly craving the Hollywoodization of Norse cinema. And besides, Hollywood already does this sort of thing better (or at least louder) than anybody else.

Having laid out my qualms in advance, I am happy to report that “The Wave,” directed by Roar Uthaug, is pretty good. It’s also pretty strange. At least for American viewers – and Norwegians, too? – experiencing all these familiar disaster movie tropes in a Scandinavian setting, even on a relatively low budget, can be weirdly disorienting.

The action takes place in Geiranger, a small mountain community that, back in 1905, suffered a catastrophic rock slide. In other words, as all disaster movie aficionados can tell you, the town is poised for another one. Geologist Kristian (Kristoffer Joner), who lives with his wife and two children on a nearby remote fjord, works at an early-warning center. It’s his job to know about these things, or at least it was, since he’s getting ready to pack up and move to the big city for a lucrative oil company job. 

But just as he is about to head out, we hear from his co-workers the inevitable line: “Something strange happened in the groundwater today.” As if this weren’t bad enough, we soon hear, “We’re getting some weird data.” Kristian, sensing trouble, urges his co-workers to sound the alarm and shut down the town.

Since a tsunami-causing rock slide would leave about 10 minutes for everyone in the town to scramble to higher ground, he has a point. But Geiranger is also a tourist town – all those scenic fjords! – and Kristian is overruled, although at least his warnings are investigated. In a Hollywood disaster movie, the warnings would be pooh-poohed. This part of “The Wave” also borrows liberally from “Jaws” – just substitute Martha’s Vineyard for Geiranger and sharks for mountains. If you’re gonna steal, steal from the best.

As fate would have it, Kristian’s wife, Idun (Ane Dahl Torp), works at the local resort hotel. Once the 200-foot wave slams into the mountain gorge at dawn, she does a heroic job of staying alive in a flooded bomb shelter beneath the hotel. Will Kristian rescue his family? How long can he hold his breath under water? I’ll put it this way: Unlike most Hollywood disaster movies, “The Wave” doesn’t appear to be set up for a sequel. I wouldn’t rule it out, though. If you’re going to go Hollywood, why not go all the way? Grade: B (Rated R for some language and disaster images.)

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