Waves (2019)

At times intoxicating, the film’s kaleidoscopic approach to exploring the depths of human emotions is invigorating and refreshing.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dir. Trey Edward Shults
2019 | USA | Drama/Romance | 135 mins | 1.85:1 | English
M18 (passed clean) for language throughout, drug and alcohol use, some sexual content and brief violence-all involving teens

Cast:  Taylor Russell, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Alexa Demie, Sterling K. Brown, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Lucas Hedges
Plot: Traces the journey of a suburban family – led by a well-intentioned but domineering father – as they navigate love, forgiveness, and coming together in the aftermath of a loss.
Awards: Official Selection (Toronto)
International Sales: A24 (SG: United International Pictures)

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: The Projector
Spoilers: No

Waves elevates itself from the crowd purely from a filmmaking standpoint. 

In Trey Edward Shults’ third feature film (after the critical successes of 2015’s Krisha and 2017’s It Comes at Night), we see a filmmaker trying to push his work to some kind of sensorial extreme, where the dizzying cinematography, frenetic editing and freewheeling use of songs give us an intoxicating and immersive viewing experience. 

And that’s only the first half of the film. 

What’s special about Waves is that its invigorating first half gives way to a more contemplative, but no less refreshing second hour.  In other words, Waves is not so much a lopsided game of two halves, but feels like two excellent films in one. 

Some might even say that it is three short films in one with Shults’ clever play with aspect ratios (not since Xavier Dolan’s Mommy (2014) have I seen a film that has used a potentially gimmicky device with aplomb) proving essential in adjusting us to the different tonalities of the film. 

“You have so much love to share with the world and so much life yet to live.”

Waves centers on an African-American family, seemingly picture-perfect but with fault lines that run rather deep.  As the narrative treads on, things change dramatically and lives are altered. 

Shults explores the depths of human emotions—anger, hatred, joy, bliss, frustration, sadness, guilt, regret, peace—through some remarkable performances by his cast, with particularly great work from Taylor Russell who plays Emily, the daughter of the family. 

While sometimes Shults may be accused of being too indulgent with all the stylistic excess, Waves’ kaleidoscopic approach to filmmaking gives it life and energy, such that even in the quietest moments, we still feel affected by the characters’ circumstances and how the past continues to reverberate—like waves, or Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ throbbing if atmospheric original score—within their selves.   

Grade: A-




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