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‘Waves’ review: Dir. Trey Edward Shultz (2020)

Trey Edward Shultz follows up his 2017 psychological horror movie It Comes At Night with a very different fare for 2020, a family-focused slow-burner of a drama full of blistering performances set on the sun-soaked coast of south Florida.


Waves was placed at various film festivals during the late part of 2020 and arrives in cinemas off the back of largely rapturous applause received at most screenings, and rightly so as we have one of the best films of the year so far.

Split into two very distinct halves, Waves focuses on the middle to upper-class Williams family, specifically Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a well-motivated eighteen-year-old in his final year of high school. We open to him riding in the glowing sunshine, young and care-free, leg dangling out the car window, the camera spinning around and around in a very technically impressive move we see duplicated throughout proceedings. He’s with his beautiful girlfriend, Alexis (Alexa Demie) and things are very much looking up in his young life.

However, his father, Ronald (Sterling K. Brown) obviously refuses to accept mediocrity and pushes him to his limits in everything he does – be it in the sporting arena at school – the wrestling ring – or at home helping with the family business. Tyler suddenly suffers a serious shoulder injury, one that jeopardises at least the rest of the remainder of the academic year. He initially hides the injury – a horrific a Level 5 SLAP tear – from his family and steals his father’s painkillers to cope, pushing on with his wrestling career in great pain and at huge risk. It is around here where a sudden development in his relationship with Alexis adds extra strain to his being, his life gradually spiraling out of control.

There’s much more to Waves that I could delve into, but that would steal away some of the impact of witnessing it all for the first time. There’s a whole second half which centers on the fallout from the first, one that brings a sensational Taylor Russell as younger sibling Emily Williams more into the fold, and also a once again brilliant Lucas Hedges in a terrific, heartfelt performance as the delicate, shy Luke, Emily’s love interest. In fact, it is the ensemble cast that is one of the film’s most impressive assets, one that one feels should have had a lot more attention during this awards season. Kelvin Harrison Jr is magnificent as the troubled Tyler who literally ignites the screen as his character relentlessly hurtles towards his fate towards the end of the first half.

Waves is also a visual and aural marvel. The inventive, swirling camerawork from the director of photography, Drew Daniels is electric, while the booming, screeching and atmospheric sounds of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross amongst the best they’ve produced for a feature soundtrack. Add into the offerings tracks from the likes of everyone from Kayne West to Amy Winehouse and Kendrick Lamarr to Radiohead and you’re on to an absolute winner. Every sound is perfectly placed and it’s an absolute treat for the ears from start to finish.

Waves might not be for all, though – it is sure to polarise audiences. A slow-burning first half may turn off some without any hope of pulling them back, but if you stick with Shultz’s purposely drawn-out opening half-hour, you’ll be rewarded by the pulsating midway point, through to the satisfying, very-different-to-what-is-expected climax.

A grounded tale of family, love, and loss; a massively engaging character work that is uplifting, devasting, hard-hitting and utterly heart-provoking. You will literally go through every single emotion during its 130 minute-plus running time. One of the first proper cinematic treats of 2020 so far.

Waves is now playing in cinemas.


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