By ROCCO THOMPSON
Starring Justin Long, Tommy Flanagan, Katia Winter
Directed by Gille Klabin
Written by Carl W. Lucas
Epic Pictures Group
A couple years back, IndieWire’s David Ehrlich published a piece about the advent of “Nicecore”: a breed of films celebrating radical kindness (think PADDINGTON 2 and A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD) that have emerged in the wake of the 2016 election. In these dark, divisive days, flicks serving as a balm for our anxiety-shredded souls have captured audiences, and though horror films might seem like diametric opposites to these feel-good, nice-affirming entertainments, movies like LITTLE MONSTERS and ONE CUT OF THE DEAD point to the embrace of this trend among the more genre-inclined. Gille Klabin’s Fantastic Fest 2019 selection THE WAVE is part of this (excuse me) wave. A pulsating, drug-fueled trip-out with a sunny disposition, THE WAVE isn’t just a voyage into the outer limits of consciousness, but the existential journey of a man trying his damndest to set things right.
Justin Long (JEEPERS CREEPERS) stars as Frank, a “cold, corporate, faceless” lawyer on the cusp of a big promotion. When his best buddy, Jeff (Donald Faison) tempts him out of the house to celebrate, they hit a local bar where they encounter two beautiful young women (Katia Winter and Sheila Vand) who invite them to a party. Eager to impress his date and fed up with his lackluster existence, Frank accepts a mysterious drug from a dealer (Tommy Flanagan) that sends him on a perception-altering, life-changing trip through time.
From moment one, THE WAVE is bursting with so much pent-up creative energy it practically leaks straight out of the screen. It doesn’t seem like there’s a single static shot in the thing, and even before Frank begins his wild trip, Klabin’s camera is slipping, pushing, gliding and tilting: a cinematic eye that feels more like a godly thumb bearing down on the protagonist. When the inevitable drugging finally occurs, THE WAVE breaks loose with synapse-tickling visual effects, courtesy of Patrick Lawler. Images warp and shift like petrol dancing across the surface of a puddle, board rooms become rotoscopic visions of Hell, hours flit by in seconds, and Frank finds himself in an otherworldly liminal landscape for brief moments of repose between violent dust-ups and sudden time jumps.
Still boyish, Long is perfectly cast as the mystified and hapless hero. His comic chops are well showcased here, and he manages to keep his head above water even when THE WAVE threatens to crash in on itself. That isn’t to say that the story is bad, by any means, but there’s a looseness to this elliptical tale of do-goodery that might perturb sticklers for coherence. Watertight logic isn’t what Klabin is after anyway, referring to it as a piece of “pop existentialism” that should be enjoyed as such. Less a mind-bender than a mild mind-flexer, THE WAVE is a film of little narrative refinement or depth, but there’s something soothing in its sturdy moral center: an optimistic sense that even when things are at their worst, the universe is giving us just what we need, though we might not realize it at first.
Stylish, unpredictable, and wildly entertaining, Gille Klabin’s THE WAVE is an intoxicating sci-fi jaunt that’s full to bursting with manic energy and positive vibes. Starring Justin Long as a bloodsucking lawyer out to salvage his soul, Klabin’s film feels like the Nicecore answer to Gaspar Noé’s ENTER THE VOID. It’s simplistic moral messaging, gooey-eyed existential humanism, and questionable narrative logic may trigger a disgust response in the most hardened of cinephiles, but for those willing to turn on, tune in, and drop out…you may just have the trip of your life.
THE WAVE is now available in select theaters and VOD, and lands on DVD/Blu-Ray February 11th from Epic Pictures.