A wonderful, chaotic blend of a mood piece that succeeds with some deep, dramatic character examinations. Set in the heart of Florida, ‘Waves’ follows a family headed by a complicated, domineering father figure, who must come together after a loss in an attempt to love and forgive. Like directors before him, Trey Edward Shults vividly brings the Floridian landscape to life, using some beautiful locations that inform the film’s mood. The use of colour, lighting, and an ambitious use of framing only reinforces the film’s emotions veering from visceral disarray to a somber, catharsis. Backed by another iconic score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, that should’ve been leant on a lot more as opposed to the soundtrack. It occasionally stumbles into a game of guess the song, although the music choice is well selected and fits each respective scene, its consistency feels more like a run-through of the directors favourite Spotify playlist rather an artistic decision for the film.
The director’s clear ambition continues with an elliptical narrative, containing a first act of emotionally charged chaos that crashes in at full speed complimenting the unfolding narrative. An experience that succeeds in sending your stomach into knots that won’t unwind until long after the film has finished. This is at the expense of diving deeper into some of the more pronounced relationships, however, the ambiguity can be seen as a strength. In the second act, ‘Waves’ finds its feet and truly shines, slowing down and allowing every emotion to breathe. Focusing on the need to come together, love one another, and forgive. Throughout, the film challenges some immediate key cultural discourses, surrounding student-athletes, toxic masculinity and the pressures that can come from overbearing parents.
All of which is embodied beautifully in a range of performances across the cast. Sterling K. Brown looms large as the father in an ominous performance that evolves throughout the film and functions as a perfect reactor to Kelvin Harrison Jr’s role as his son Tyler. The pair create a toxic, masculine, concoction that overwhelms from the beginning and is destined to end badly. Complimented brilliantly by a dynamic performance from Lucas Hedges, as Luke, providing an entirely opposing character to Harrison’s Tyler. It is, however, Taylor Russell as Emily who ties the film up with a haunting performance, weighed down by her family’s past and trying to reconcile their actions. Emily is coming of age in the second act, dealing with being collateral damage and an after-thought to her surrounding family, slowly more and more of her personality is revealed. Her relationship with Luke reveals a whole new side to the character that was subdued so well by Russells’s performance, who carries a lead role with ease.
Waves is an important, immediate film that succeeds in challenging many aspects of modern society, blending dream-like coming of age moments with the harsh realities of the real world. It is an emotional, visceral cinematic experience that will challenge you long after it’s over.
Written by Conor Crooks
STAR RATING –★★★★
Question: Which cast member gave your favourite performance?
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