Film Review: Waves

Trey Edward Shults’ Waves is tender, powerful, and finely executed. 

High school wrestler Tyler struggles with balancing practice, family life, and his relationship with his girlfriend. His sister Emily, meanwhile, struggles in the aftermath of a life-changing event…

Focusing on Tyler and his family as he faces pressure from all corners, Waves is a meditative drama. Written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, the film tackles powerful themes within the confines of a teen-focused drama.

The narrative has a definite break, when the focus is pulled from one protagonist and on to another. The first segment feels like a complete film when it reaches its climax. As the second segment begins it is difficult to see where Shults will take his story. As the second part continues, it is absorbing. There is humour to be found in both parts, but the emphasis remains on drama. There are several emotional moments, and each of these is earned by the solid script, good character development, and the filmmaker’s considered direction. 

Camera work in Waves is frenetic to begin with; it does not stop moving for the opening scenes. The pace and range of movement slows in tandem with Tyler’s momentum. It acts almost as a mirror to Tyler’s drive; as aspects of his life spin out of control, the camera slows to meet his level. Later in the film, the camera is more laconic, matching the personality of Emily.

Colour is used to good effect in the film, underscoring the mood and energy at times. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score is a brilliant accompaniment to the on screen action. Performances in Waves are great all round. Kelvin Harrison Jr. is completely believable as Tyler. As his life spirals out of control, his frenzy is conveyed in a disconcerting fashion. Taylor Russell is also great; she has great chemistry with Lucas Hedges. Sterling K. Brown is a strong asset as their father.

Shults’ third film illustrates the filmmaker’s considerable skill and adeptness at storytelling. Waves is memorable viewing.

Waves is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2019. 

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