12th October 2019 9.15pm at Odeon Leicester Square
13th October 2019 8.30pm at Vue West End
Waves is a film built on frustration, in more ways than one. This is a feature in which tragedy crackles from the get-go, emotional repression feeding the flames until the inevitable downfall scorches with torturous effect. Which makes it all the more infuriating to see such a brutal climax fizzle out at the midpoint of the movie. It’s like watching a tsunami break; the aftermath is devastating, but it’s the initial wave that overwhelms our senses, dealing the biggest blow.
To tell a story that follows an entire family beset by tragedy is a hugely ambitious project, and Trey Edward Shultz tackles the task with a deft hand. The tale initially follows Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Junior) as he pursues his dreams of wrestling despite a serious injury, spurred on by an over-pushy father (Sterling K Brown). But as disaster strikes, we are left in its wake, caught in the ripple effect as the family break down one by one. Tyler’s sister Emily (Taylor Russell) becomes protagonist in a second chapter of forgiveness and healing.
Unfortunately, it almost feels like this latter story starts after the film ends. Had we invested earlier in Russell’s character, the shift in perspective and tone might be less jarring. After all, her introverted performance hits all the right notes. But after such a sizzling and relentless stint from Harrison Junior, a bit more groundwork is needed to maintain the momentum. Brown is more of a constant presence and his portrayal carves a nuanced arc from intimidating to unhinged. His character becomes the backbone of the narrative, a spine that fractures and mends, never to be the same again.
Visually, this film nails every frame. Throughout, vivid reds and blues contrast, hot and cold vying against each other, a life of extremes and uncertainty, flipping between opposite poles. This palette lends striking power to each scene, charging interactions with fiery passion and frosty detachment. Visceral shots of vomiting are paired perfectly with dizzying spinning shots: right from the opening sequence we are disorientated – lacking safety and stability. We are constantly in cars, whizzing from one place to another at nauseating speed. Overexposed light dance across the screen, both beautiful and indefinable.
Waves builds us with the tension of an oncoming storm. We can sense the clouds overhead, and yet for our characters, there’s no shelter to be found. It’s only after the clouds have dissipated that the family can build what they never had in the first place: a home.
Waves is released in select cinemas on 17th January 2019.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for Waves here: