Waves (2019)

Director: Trey Edward Shults
Writer: Trey Edward Shults
Cast: Kelvin Harrison Jr., Taylor Russell, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sterling K. Brown, Lucas Hedges, Alexa Demie, Clifton Collins Jr.
Seen on: 18.7.2020

Content Note: domestic abuse

The Williams family has it pretty good, and father Ronald (Sterling K. Brown) is proud of their success. He works hard to maintain it and also pushes his son Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) to succeed. Tyler is a promising wrestler, but when a shoulder injury and a possible pregnancy from his girlfriend Alexis (Alexa Demie) threaten all his carefully made plans, his life starts to unravel before his eyes. Meanwhile his sister Emily (Taylor Russell) flies mostly under the radar, but sees her brother struggling, as does his stepmother Catherine (Renée Elise Goldsberry). But neither is sure how to reach him.

Waves tells an interesting story with good characters, but above all, it manges to use all cinema has to offer to create a sensory experience that should be seen, heard and felt on a big screen.

The film poster showing Ronald (Sterling K. Brown) hugging his daughter Emily (Taylor Russell) on a picknick table, water all around them.

If Waves had basically played it straight – just told its story with conventional techniques – I still would have been very impressed. Its story is a strong indictment of performance culture and the pressures that come with always having to give your best, with not being allowed to fail. This goes doubly for Black people who have to fight twice as much to succeed and then have to continue fighting to keep their success.

The film takes this as a basis and then ruminates on the question on how you can, maybe, forgive if somebody has done something unforgiveable – and that this forgiveness may benefit the forgiver more than the forgiven. There is a pretty abrupt break around the halfway mark of the film where the focuse shifts from one perspective and one main theme to another. I was not prepared for it, and I was a little taken aback at first, but once I’d adjusted, I really liked that change. Also, it makes another good argument about how prisons fail pretty much everybody on a human level.

Tyler (Kelvin Harris Jr.) looking at his reflection.

But the film is more experimental than that. There are long sequences where music and lighting take over the narrative and the film starts telling its story on another level: a more impressionistic level that tries to communicate emotions in a more direct way (much like poetry). Those scenes are really what made the film stand out for me – the beginning already left me breathless.

With the terrific cast doing their part to keep us connected to the characters, Waves really is a gem of a film (and quite a jump since Shults’ last film It Comes at Night that was far from bad, but goes to show that people do get better with experience). I can only recommend it.

Ronald (Sterling K. Brown) and his wife Catherine (Renée Elise Goldsberry) eating in a diner with the kids Tyler (Kelvin Harris Jr.) and Emily (Taylor Russell).

Summarizing: Fantastic.

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