Director: Trey Edward Shults
Talent: Kelvin Harrison Jr., Lucas Hedges, Taylor Russell, Alexa Demie, Sterling K. Brown
Release: 17 January
“I won’t let you down. You won’t let me down. I won’t let my folks down. I won’t let my coach down. I cannot be taken down, I am a new machine.”
The third feature from writer/director Trey Edward Shults (Krisha, It Comes at Night), Waves tells the story of a family encountering tragedy and possible dissolution. Set against the insta-filtered amber hues of the Florida coast, Shults uses a claustrophobic camera and shifts in aspect ratio to create a sense of foreboding as Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) trains for wrestling competitions under the watchful eye of his father.
Sterling K. Brown is exceptional in the role of Ronald, pushing his son while holding back the frustration that he can’t just crack open his head and get in and steer. As injury threatens and his relationship with girlfriend Alexis (Alexa Demie) takes a turn, Tyler’s life begins to fall apart. Harrison Jr. gives a nuanced performance as the knuckle-headed teen, as he says the wrong things and takes the pill that’s one too many. The film is occasionally darkly funny in observing teen life, be it arguments conducted over text (complete with ‘duck’ typos) or the social media stalking before any first date.
Their relationship ends in violence, and in the aftermath the film switches focus to Tyler’s younger sister Emily (Taylor Russell), as she navigates the wreckage and takes refuge in a new friendship with the endearingly dopey Luke (Lucas Hedges). The soundtrack, featuring Kendrick, Kanye, Fuck Buttons and Radiohead, tends to overdo the record drops in this second half, with one particularly awkward use of Animal Collective. But in its more subtle moments of connection, Waves is a moving meditation on how we all let everybody down, most regularly ourselves. But to love is to forgive, and to forgive is to begin to heal.
Words: Michael Armstrong