Film Review: The Wave (Bølgen; Norway)

What is a stereotypical Norwegian landscape if not a mountain above a fjord? And if a mountain fell into a fjord, would that not signify the end of a Norwegian world as we know it? This is exactly the premise for the first ever Norwegian disaster film that has taken domestic audiences by tsunami and will have its UK premiere at the London Film Festival on 14 October. The Wave (or Bølgen in the original) is based on the real-life assumption that the ever-widening structural cracks of the Åkerneset mountain (in the west of Norway) will one day cause an avalanche into the adjacent Geiranger fjord, and a gigantic wave will destroy everything in sight.

The Wave’s plotline is reminiscent of Dante’s Peak (USA, 1997): a dedicated scientist’s warnings of an imminent catastrophe do not seem credible at first; during the evacuation, the scientist attempts to rescue a family, whose members become separated from each other; and the salvation, at least for some, lies underground. Yet there are features that add a specifically Norwegian feel to The Wave: the central character, called Kristian (convincingly played by Kristoffer Joner), goes well beyond the call of duty to convince his ex-colleagues at the seismic surveillance station, where he does not even work any longer (he is being transferred to an oil industry branch in Stavanger), that the mountain is about to collapse; and a total stranger loses her life while trying to locate Kristian’s missing son, whom she has never met (roots of such a selfless behaviour can be found in the Norwegian community ethos with its concept of dugnad, or unpaid collaborative work).

The director Roar Uthaug – known for the horror flick Cold Prey (2006), which is watched by a minor character in one of The Wave’s scenes, and the medieval chase film Escape (2012) – squeezes the most out of its relatively modest budget of 51 million NOK (approximately four million GBP), to deliver a believable and absorbing spectacle that makes James Cameron’s Titanic look somewhat overpriced and overhyped. In a month since its release in Norway, The Wave has already been seen by more than 630,000 viewers, which is truly remarkable for a nation of five million residents. Whether The Wave rolls victoriously to more distant shores, remains to be seen.

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