One of the things I missed most during the cinema lockdowns was that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you discover a truly brilliant film for the first time. Yesterday, that feeling returned for me as I sat and watched Waves, a remarkable film that is made a masterpiece by a creative director, an amazing script and performances that deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the word ‘Oscars’.
From filmmaker Trey Edward Shults (It Comes At Night), Waves chronicles life for a family led by dominating father, Ronald (Sterling K. Brown – Black Panther), as a chain of events occur that will change their lives forever.
Despite warnings from the family’s step-mother Catherine (Renee Elise Goldsberry – Hamilton) Ronald keeps pushing his teenage son Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jnr – Monsters And Men) to succeed, especially when it comes to his high school wrestling career. But as Tyler struggles to keep going while obviously injured, things start crashing down in his life and the flow on effect keeps affecting everyone including his girlfriend, Alexis (Alexa Demie – mid90s) and his sister, Emily (Taylor Russell – Lost In Space).
There is a power to Waves that very few films in modern-day cinema can match. With notable exceptions like Mud and The Perks Of Being a Wallflower, a lot of coming-of-age films released over recent years have shied away from many of the hard-hitting topics that films like Kids or Bully addressed nearly two decades ago. To me, this has always seemed like a weird notion considering that the modern-day teenager not only faces topics like sexuality and bullying daily, but a range of new vices and issues as well that past generations could only dream about.
Unlike its contemporaries, Waves doesn’t hold back and instead pushes the audience head-first into the world of a crumbling teenager who has moments that will leave viewers shocked to the core. Waves is like a spectacular yet beautiful car-crash; it hits hard and will affect all that watch, but at the same time you can’t look away.
One of the keys to Waves working for me was its unpredictability. Just as you think Shults’ plot-line is going one direction, he sharply but realistically takes it another way. As a storyteller, Shults doesn’t sign-post key events during the film and the results are moments of true shock that the audience will never see coming.
Also adding to the experiences of watching Waves is Shults experimental style of changing the ratio of how the film appears on the screen depending on where we are in the family’s story. It seems a small gesture, but you do notice it and it works to enhance the cinematic experience of the story rather than hindering it.
Rounding out what makes Waves one of the best films of 2020 are the performances from the cast. We haven’t had a clean sweep at the Oscars for awhile, but if Sterling K. Brown, Taylor Russell, Kelvin Harrison Jnr and Lucas Hedges (Boy Erased) don’t get Oscar nominations for their performances in this film, then a huge cinematic injustice will occur. Their scenes together are delivered with pure raw emotion and the result is nothing short of phenomenal.
Waves is not just one of my favourite films of 2020, it was one of the best I have seen in the last decade. Waves contains a sensational script, a creative director, an incredible score composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and a highly skilled cast, which lead to an explosion of brilliance that is not to be missed.