WAVES is sonic cinema, full of sound and fury, signifying everything.
The first thing you are aware of in writer-director Trey Edward Shults’ WAVES is the sound. It’s loud music played in a car full of teenagers, the camera a carousel as they cruise joyous and carefree.
Sight and sound swirl, literally, with the pulsating energy of youth as these kids drive down a balmy, palm tree lined coastal boulevard in South Florida.
Two of the teenagers, Tyler and Alexis, are totally into each other, he calls her Goddess. In the parlance of aspirational America, she is Prom Queen quality, he is an accomplished athlete in their high school’s wrestling squad. Their futures look bright, assured. But parental and peer pressure, personal injury and an unplanned pregnancy put paid to their plain sailing prospects.
WAVES begins on a wave of euphoria, a free spirited swell, an upsurge, a crest, then breaks into uncharted waters, the peaks and troughs, the ebb and flow of life, choices and consequences.
Trey’s journey is the focal point of the first half of the picture, while the emphasis shifts to his sister, Emily for the second half. Two spans of a bridge supported by parental trusses that both bear and cause stresses.
As a study of family dynamic, WAVES is compelling and engrossing, encompassing the day to day to tide turning events, in this case culminating in a searing tsunami of trauma.
An exquisite ensemble cast featuring Kelvin Harrison, Jr. as Tyler, Alexa Demie as Alexis, Sterling K. Brown as Dad, and Renée Elise Goldsberry as Mum pump palpable verisimilitude into WAVES, with a particularly outstanding performance by Taylor Russell as Emily.
Uniquely structured, with sound and music, colour and movement, and shifting aspect ratios intrinsically woven into the narrative, WAVES is virtuoso film making, emotionally profound and technically proficient.
Propelled by an exhilarating soundtrack, including songs by Frank Ocean, Radiohead, and Dinah Washington and a compellingly atmospheric score by the Academy Award-winning duo, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the awesome auditory component doesn’t just play accompaniment but compliments and completes the arresting visual style of cinematographer Drew Daniels and colourist, Damien Van Der Cruyssen.
It’s an inclusive innovative sensory accomplishment which heightens the subjectivity of the film’s characters in bold and adventurous ways that are in keeping with the restless spirit of modern youth the film both addresses and captures.
WAVES begins in the wide screen aspect ratio, but as things start closing down, the aspect ratio narrows. Emily’s story, by contrast, begins in flat square ratio, engulfed in grief following the heartbreaking events of the film’s midsection. But it opens up again as she comes back to life and her burgeoning romance takes hold.
The colour palette is also extremely remarkable and spectacular, the emergency colours of red and blue a distinct motif, soft in the use of curtains and furnishings, harder and sharper in the flashing lights of police and ambulance vehicles.
Adroitly edited by Isaac Hagy and the director, with costumes by Rachel Dainer-Best costumes and production design by Elliott Hostetter, WAVES is a superbly crafted film, a stylish, substantive piece of work that elevates hope over hurt and hate.