Waves has a lot of hype surrounding it, and not without reason. Trey Edward Shults’ third full-length feature is an ambitious, stylish, and sprawling family drama that is sure to connect with many. However, its manic direction and scattered plot kept it from fully connecting, even when its performances and visuals do.
Trey Edward Shults, who directed 2017’s It Comes at Night and 2014’s Krisha, directed and wrote this family drama. While his direction is stylistically lush, varied, and satisfying, it never feels like he has full control of the film. The film doesn’t have a sense of cohesion, as scenes run into one another relentlessly right up until they don’t. I appreciated the artistic flourishes (there’s a sequence involving a series of aspect ratio changes that was very impressive), but overall I felt like the direction style was more distracting than it was engaging.
Waves follows a South Florida family, made up of father Ronald (Sterling K. Brown), mother Catherine (Renee Elise Goldsberry), and their two children, Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and Emily (Taylor Russell), whose lives are shattered by a shocking event. At face value, this is a straightforward story that has been done before, but this contains some surprising ideas and themes to explore. However, the film is essentially split in two, which has been dividing viewers. Some find it satisfying in its exploration of perspective, but I found it to be a bit disjointed. The story has some wonderful moments and scenes, but once again it never connected in any meaningful way for me.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Where this film absolutely excels, though, is in the acting department. Kelvin Harrison Jr. is a force of nature in this film as a student athlete desperate to please his father and improve himself. He gives one of the strongest and most varied performances of the year. Likewise, Sterling K. Brown exudes charisma and moments of menace as his domineering but good-hearted father. However, the heart of this movie lies with Taylor Russell’s Emily, who grounds everything that happens in a believable and sympathetic way. The whole cast is excellent, and really help sell the moments where the script and structure of the film let them down. A terrific ensemble piece.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The soundtrack for this film is unbelievable. Shults is clearly going for style with this film, and he absolutely succeeds. With songs by Tame Impala, ASAP Rocky, and Frank Ocean filling out the roster, there’s no shortage of great music to be found. However, the real MVP is Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross’ moody and ambient score, which fits the film’s ambiance perfectly.
I found the film’s design and South Florida aesthetic to be completely immersive. The film has a firm sense of place, and that’s entirely to the credit of the design and set teams. Waves may not always be presented in the strongest way, but it certainly always looks incredible.
Waves will likely be a divisive film among viewers, with some loving its stylish and asymmetrical structure, while others may crave something a bit more streamlined. Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle. There are plenty of elements of this movie to appreciate and think about, but too few of them come together into something coherent. While its ruminations on loss, acceptance, and family are powerful, they too infrequently result in something satisfying. The result is beautiful and powerful, although still producing a frustrating and uneven film.