Movies where a character goes on a journey to find out who they really are, are not exactly lacking. Where The Wave stands out from the rest of the crowd is its visual effects – a uniquely psychedelic trip that combines the feelings of a crumbling reality with a general uneasiness. Employing arresting visuals with clever editing, Gille Klabin’s feature debut is an enjoyable enough journey that has difficulty overcoming many hurdles in its screenplay. Even with that, there’s something promising in The Wave’s execution that carries a heady, science fiction premise to the finish line.
One of the major problems that Carl W. Lucas’s screenplay never quite gets over is its main character being unlikable. Justin Long does a lot of work to bring charisma and let the viewer feel some sort of kinship with his portrayal of Frank, but often it becomes difficult to root for him. In an almost The Hangover-like set-up, Frank celebrates the eve of a guaranteed promotion with his co-worker, Jeff (Donald Faison), only to find himself trapped in a hallucinogenic nightmare. After taking an unknown drug, Frank finds himself stumbling through time unsure of where he is and how he got there. All he knows for sure is that if he doesn’t figure out what’s going on and how to stop it, he can kiss his entire life goodbye.
While it is easy to see the rationale behind having a character that’s fairly unredeemable – it is a movie all about questioning whether the reality you are in is the reality you truly believe in – The Wave barely earns its attempt at a redemption arc. Early on, Frank wastes very little time agreeing to go on a bender after his wife tells him she’s going to buy a dress and scolds him for his hypocritical stance on spending money. His behaviour directly contradicts who he “actually” is – except the only indication of that is from someone he barely knows telling him that. It was at that point that it became near-impossible to root for Frank.
None of that truly matters in the long run though because as much as The Wave is about karma and the way we treat others, it’s also a mind-bending, time-warping drug trip. The hallucinogen that Frank takes ends up having him travel through time in specific locations. As is described to him when he takes the drug, it’s like riding a wave. As such, several times throughout the movie Frank will have chunks of time unaccounted for when the drug’s effects kick into high gear. Klabin and visual effects supervisor Patrick Lawler have created a very unique atmosphere to the scenes when Frank is hallucinating. Fluctuating between cosmic dreamscape and uneasy nightmare, it’s a delirious experience taken to astounding heights.
Along those same lines, Long’s performance is endearingly reactive to the drug’s effects. He is able to keep things level-headed as the special effects run rampant. When paired with Faison, the two have a decent rapport. It’s the drug dealers of the film that get to be especially compelling with Tommy Flanagan being the cool, sophisticated dealer alongside Ronnie Gene Blevins’ chaotic, violent archetype. It’s ultimately a movie centered on Long’s performance, but the supporting cast brings out a range in him that keeps the film entertaining throughout.
The Wave is never short of thrills, but it also lacks any real impact by the time it concludes. Attempting to redeem a seemingly irredeemable character, the film comes in with a handicap of its own design. Despite moments of profundity and contemplation, Klabin’s film is filled with more promise than it is actual depth. That said, The Wave is a fun ride and one that doesn’t wear out its welcome or feel like a waste of time. The visuals alone will delight science fiction fans looking for something soaked in style.