If the guys in The Hangover learned to travel through time and ended up in Waking Life, it would be a little like The Wave.
Directed by Gille Klabin and written by Carl W. Lucas, The Wave stars Justin Long as Frank, an upper-middle-class lawyer dead set on breaking out of his boring life with a crazy night out. After he meets a girl named Theresa (Sheila Vand), they each take a mysterious drug which, almost instantly, transports Frank to tomorrow. As the day goes on, the intense hallucinations don’t stop, so Frank sets off to find Theresa hoping to figure out what happened.
Though The Wave’s set-up and structure slightly resembles The Hangover it is not a comedy. There’s some levity but, for the most part, The Wave is a dramatic, psychedelic trip mystery that jumps between times, locations, and realities as Frank slowly pieces together not just his night, but his purpose.
The story goes from kinetic and intense to etherial and serene, always keeping a viewer guessing as to what comes next. Plus, Klabin uses all kinds of different camera tricks, lights, and other techniques to keep the film visually dynamic.
What holds The Wave back from really popping off the screen is that its setting is very familiar and somewhat dated. Frank, the corporate lawyer, is celebrating the fact he denied a family a big insurance claim and his biggest problem, at the start, is he can’t afford a new dress for his wife.
The film doesn’t exactly glorify that lifestyle but films about men in suits with cushy jobs looking for a purpose is such well-travelled ground it very quickly creates a disconnect with the audience. Whether you relate to Frank or not, it’s simply difficult to care. Even Long, a very underrated leading man who carries the film, can’t bring the socio-economic essence of the film out of the clouds. As a result, The Wave’s emotions wither away as the viewer patiently waits for the next wild, crazy sequence or jump in time.
While that disconnect does make the second act a tad repetitive, when the third act kicks in, the payoff is considerable. Eventually, Frank begins to understand the rules of the drug and the film itself and utilises them in ways that are wholly satisfying and fun. There’s some real energy and surprises to the final reveals. By that time though, once Frank’s journey is done, while you won’t be mad at it, it’s mostly fleeting.
Though Klabin provides a suitable amount of exciting visuals, Long is fun to watch, and the third act is good, The Wave is barely a ride worth taking. For a film that sounds like such a wild trip, it ends up being a little too ordinary.
The Wave had its world premiere at Fantastic Fest 2019. It does not yet have a release date.