Rome Film Festival Review – Waves (2019)

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The first thing that will strike you about Waves is the soundtrack. Sensory music pounds through the speaks, engulfing the audience into a whirlwind of Frank Ocean and electrifying visuals. Director Trey Edward Shults’s employs sound as part of the story- particularly effective when paired with astounding 360˚ camera shots. Wide lenses and neon lights flood viewers with an experience for all the senses, making the scope of an A24 indie flick feel like a grand epic. But it’s not just the impressive aesthetics of Waves that leaves you speechless…it’s the touching story beneath it.

Waves dual-story narrative essentially boils down to a story of grief and forgiveness. When high-schooler Tyler Williams (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is pushed too far by his domineering father (Sterling K. Brown), he is forced to give up sports. As the title ‘Waves’ suggests, this causes a ripple effect that gradually manifests into an explosion of rage and tragedy.

What’s most interesting about Shults’s drama is his unusual choice of continuation. Waves never quite goes in the direction you’re expecting, causing some audible gasps to ululate the theatre. Drew Daniels’s inventive cinematography adopts different ratios and motifs to guide audiences on new paths. The narrative – despite having a seemingly cliché storyline – gets creative in exploring the complex realms of modern American life.

Waves depiction of high-school is refreshingly realistic. Prom night isn’t portrayed as another PG romance between two slow-dancing teens. Just as text messages aren’t polished to be grammatically correct. Shults takes the ordinary and turns it into something more; using the obstacles of adolescent life as catalysts that erupt later in the wider world.

Waves stands out for its ability to shock and awe, working against the grain of cinematic convention. The prolonged narrative is questionable at times, occasionally dragging on – especially towards the end. Perhaps Shults would have been better off developing Russell’s character more, before diving in blind as the protagonist of the second plot. Occasionally you may find yourself thinking “what’s the point in showing us this?” However, these personal insights are overall important for the immersive result.

Waves embraces the cause-and-effect reality of everyday life. Characters behave and react in their own particular way, never being used as expositional stand-ins. Harrison Jr., Brown and Taylor Russel deliver powerhouse renditions of emotional turmoil, allowing us to probe deeper into the core of the story through their nuanced and expressive performances. Lucas Hedges and Alexa Demie also star as those effected by Tyler’s domino effect of events.

Waves does not conclude at the climax of the plot, but of the characters. Shults’s examines the after effects of the story instead of ending where most filmmakers would. Because of this, the goal of Waves is not to surprise with plot-twists (though it does do this), but allegorise the importance of forgiveness, relationships and understanding.

Drama | USA, 2019 | 15 | Universal Pictures | 17th January 2020 (UK) | Dir.Trey Edwards Shult | Taylor Russell, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Alexa Demie, Bill Wise,