Waves – TIFF 2019 Review

Ever since his ultra-low budget debut with Krisha in 2015 , Trey Edward Shults has been an indie darling of sorts from his very first splash onto the film festival scene. Already making tight acquaintances with major contemporary motion picture distribution house A24, the majority of his film’s follow a basic central narrative on an American family dynamic. In Krisha, his first feature, which was based on a short film Shults created years prior of the same name, the film takes the form of a commentary on mental illness and substance addiction between family members, with dueling arguments and painful quarrels included. It Comes At Night on the other hand, is a completely different change of pace, where Trey and his crew brought in big name actors such Joel Edgerton and Riley Keough, into what is essentially a meditative experimentation on paranoia, and the drastic effects it tolls on a supposedly modern family. I, for one, admire Shults’ work, with It Comes At Night being the personal highlight of his already small, but impressive filmography. With Waves, his latest feature, Shults returns with his familiar sophisticated ideas with a film like no other. 

Waves follows yet again, a family in the midst of societal chaos and cultural expectations. Utilizing themes of toxic masculinity, and the pressure of haunted suburbia, Shults utilizes a soundtrack compact with tunes from Kanye West to Radiohead, in order to convey themes of betrayal, transgression, and redemption. The film is shocking, making quite an impression by it’s horrifically surprising change of events at its mid-point. Never do these events feel exploitative though, and Shults always perfectly measures the balance of tragedy and enlightened commentary when needed. The real problem with the film is it’s back half, where the pre-developed ideas feel thrown out the window in replacement of cheesy monologues about love and the beauty of life. 

Taking a drastic turn into a territory of drenched pretentiousness, the final 40 minutes of the film, feel mind-fumblingly underwhelming. It’s occasionally sweet when it focuses on Lucas Hedges and Taylor Russell’s infectiously adorable chemistry, yet the finale feels directionless. Even when looking at the film as a whole, the scale of the narrative ultimately lacks a certain cohesive unifying bow, that connects these major plot points into a product that feels vividly real and grounded. At-times, it feels like a Terrence Malick fantasy, with some redundant and obvious aspect ratio changes included, that genuinely feel out of place and unnecessary.  

Waves is an admirable effort, that unfortunately falters due to it’s lackluster execution. The grandiose nature of it’s ambitious plot ultimately disservices the very real consequences and actions of the film’s depicted events. It often times feels awkward, and the gorgeous tinted color palette and strong cast doesn’t necessarily help the film in any significant way. Although, if there’s one thing to be sure about, is that it warmly places perfectly into A24’s Floridan Quadrilogy; among films such as The Florida Project, Moonlight, and Spring Breakers. Let’s just hope though, that Trey improves himself in the writing department next time around.

Waves screened at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. A24 will release the film on November 1st, 2019

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