I was a big fan of what director Trey Edward Shults did with the film “It Comes At Night” in 2017. Though the film wasn’t exactly the intense horror film its advertising campaign made it out to be, I still thought it was a genuinely gripping film that deserved way more love than it got.
With that in mind, I was looking forward to Shults’ next film, “Waves,” which appeared to be a more down-to-earth and emotional film about a family in Florida. Similarly to my experience with “It Comes At Night,” “Waves” wasn’t the film I expected it to be, but I loved it nonetheless.
“Waves” is pretty much two short films that play back to back. The first and second halves of this film are basically two different films — one serving as a follow-up to the other — but they work together in tandem to deliver an incredible viewing experience.
The first half of “Waves” focuses on a high school student named Tyler. When the film starts, Tyler is at a good point in his life. He’s a fantastic athlete, he has a positive relationship with his family and he’s happy with the way things are going with his girlfriend, Alexis. However, things quickly start to go downhill for Tyler. He injures himself at a wrestling competition, Alexis discovers that she’s pregnant and Tyler develops an addiction to prescription painkillers.
Following Tyler’s point of view, “Waves” then becomes a depiction of how quickly life can change for the worse. Because of this series of events in Tyler’s life, he becomes overwhelmed, angry with his family and abusive toward Alexis. This leaves the audience in shock as they watch the downward spiral that Tyler has started, a spiral that ultimately leads to a dramatic conclusion that will leave viewers’ jaws on the floor.
This then begins the second half of “Waves,” which chooses not to focus on Tyler, but instead his sister, Emily.
The second half of the film is more of an analysis of how a tragedy in one person’s life can affect those around them. What happens with Tyler — which I won’t spoil — has a direct impact on Emily’s life, and she finds she can’t really go on being the same person she was before. She has to adjust to her new situation, both with her own mental health and how she is viewed by the people around her.
Emily’s story is almost an inverse of Tyler’s. While Tyler started off living a great life and then spiraled out of control, Emily starts in a bad spot but then slowly begins to work her way out of it. She forms new relationships and serves as a positive figure in the lives of the people around her. By contrasting Emily’s story against Tyler’s, “Waves” becomes an incredibly interesting look at how people react to the situations they are in. The film shows how separate people, even siblings, can have vastly different reactions to events that are not in their control.
Both of these stories carry their own dissimilar, yet intensely, emotional moments, and “Waves” is able to portray them both with equal amounts of strength. This is because “Waves” is just a genuinely well-made and structured film. The performances are fantastic across the board. It features a phenomenal musical score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross; every moment of the film feels so carefully planned and executed that, even if the film had failed at executing the story, it would be respectable for its craftsmanship anyway.
“Waves” was not the film I expected it to be. It’s more than just the general awards-bait film that gets released around this time every year. It’s a powerful and surprising film that tells two contrasting stories with class. It’s incredibly well-made, and the themes presented are very well-realized.
Similarly to how “It Comes At Night” deserved more love than it got, I believe “Waves” should be receiving more buzz. The film failed to garner any major awards recognition, which is a real shame because this is an excellent film worthy of your attention.