Waves review: a film of two halves

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Trey Edward Shults’ latest film isn’t short of a bold choice or two – and here’s our review.

Waves is director Trey Edward Shults’s third feature film and really quite something. Centred around a black family, whose life begins to unravel rapidly after a series of incidents involving their son Tyler, Waves is an emotionally bruising watch. It’s monumental filmmaking, a story about how our own stories are never just our own, but how they always touch and affect others, sometimes in life altering ways.

Kelvin Harrison Jr., fantastic in last year’s hidden gem Luce, turns in a phenomenal performance as Tyler. Harrison Jr. has a way of baring his soul on his face, and he pulls the viewer into Tyler’s struggles. Taylor Russell as Tyler’s sister Emily is also admirably open and honest in her performance, although her role is less flashy and emotional. Sterling K. Brown plays the siblings’ strict, demanding father, hovering over the pair at all times. The dynamic between these three actors is where Waves shines, and while the film feels perhaps a tad over-directed at times, the performances keep it grounded and accessible.

Waves employs a peculiar narrative, which unfolds in two parts. The first part belongs almost solely to Tyler and his relationship with various characters, while the second observes Tyler’s sister Emily and her ways of coping with the hardships of their life. It’s certainly a bold choice on Shults’s part and it won’t work for everyone: the narrative can be off-putting and sometimes it’s hard to see where the film is heading or what it wants to say. However, Waves ultimately tells a story so whole and so universal, it’s hard not to be swept off your feet by Shults’s spinning camera and the truths he observes in the lives of these characters.

This is a film which will most certainly divide audiences and it’s not a complete home run for Shults. Lucas Hedges’s character feels a little uninspired and could be accused of white saviourism. Waves’ second half feels both visually and tonally so different that the result is jarring and a little alienating. Regardless, Waves is a film which will first beat you down and then heal you, unconditionally and completely, if you let it.


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