Waves (2019) explores a family dealing with tragedy, depicting the messy and complicated relationships between family members, friends, boyfriends, and girlfriends. The movie touches on a variety of other important subjects including drug addiction, school pressures, and many more, but I don’t want to spoil anything.
This is the third movie from director Trey Edward Shults who made his directorial debut with Krisha (2015) and followed it up with It Comes At Night (2017), a personal favorite of mine. Waves shifts from Shults’ previous movies most notably in genre, with this one being a family drama, the others being marketed as more disturbing. It Comes At Night is not a conventional horror movie and Krisha is a not a conventional dramedy. Due to this pattern I was not expecting Waves to be a conventional family drama.
While the movie was released on November 15th, it was not playing in any theatres in Ohio. Confident that I would love this movie, a friend and I drove down to Chicago on the 16th to see it. What we were met with was one of my favorite movies from this year.
I knew very little about this movie going into it. I had heard mixed reviews from film festival goers and had seen It Comes At Night which I love but is also a fairly divisive movie. I didn’t even watch the trailers. I’d recommend going to see Waves knowing about this much. The movie works, in my opinion, much better when it’s looked at in its entirety.
The most stand-out thing Waves has to offer is the performances. Kelvin Harrison Jr. plays the lead, Tyler, and does a phenomenal job. He had worked with Shults previously on It Comes At Night, so I was sure he’d do great. Sterling K. Brown plays the father of the family, Ronald, but he was another that I wasn’t worried about. The dynamic of these two is fascinating and completely exceeded my expectations. Alexa Demie, known best for her role in HBO’s Euphoria gives an amazing performance as well. Lucas Hedges also did a fantastic job as an awkward highschooler. Taylor Russell as Emily, Tyler’s sister was by far the most engaging performance. I haven’t seen Escape Room (2019) or Down A Dark Hall (2018) so I didn’t know what to expect. Needless to say, I was thoroughly impressed. One particular scene between Emily and Ronald stands out from the rest of the movie, mainly due to the performance the two give.
On a technical level, both the cinematography and sound design make for a deeply immersive experience. Many shots are messy and overwhelming in the best way possible and only serve to further the themes of the movie, all at the direction of cinematographer Drew Daniels. The soundtrack features artists like Chance the Rapper, Kanye West, Frank Ocean, and Radiohead. The score itself is composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and is fantastic. The music often combines with the cinematography to create unrelenting scenes.
One of the biggest critiques I’ve heard is that the two main acts feel disjointed. The first half follows Tyler and his story. The movie reflects this by being more harsh and fast paced. A tragedy takes place in the middle of the movie, after which the story centers around Emily and how she deals with what just happened. Because of this, the second half feels softer and more innocent, a stark contrast to the first half. While some people found this off putting, I thought that this was a smart move. Focusing on Emily and the Williams family makes the closure they strive for feel vital, and that need would not have been there if Tyler’s story was told in any other way in the first half.
Waves is a great movie, and I would highly recommend to anyone open to movies that might feel a little messy but have a good heart. I thought it was worth a 12 hour drive and was not disappointed in the slightest. Stand out performances and unique cinematography make Waves one of my favorite movies of 2019. At the very least, listen to the soundtrack.