Directed by Trey Edward Shults, Waves centres on Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) a high-school wrestling star with a promising future, supported by a loving family and girlfriend Alexis (Euphoria‘s Alexa Demie). But a painful, career jeopardising injury held at bay with prescription drugs, coupled with constant pressure from his overbearing father, Ronald (the ever fantastic Sterling K. Brown) results in Tyler spiralling out of control, culminating in an eventful night that will affect the family forever.
Directing his most personal and intimate film yet, Shults has brought to life a soaring but often heartbreaking domestic drama portraying the highs, lows and struggles of the modern American family. The film is definitely a tale of two halves; focusing firstly on Tyler’s tale, exploring the often complex father and son relationship, questioning themes of masculinity and expectation. The ensuing intensity and frenetic pacing bubbles to a shocking crescendo with an act that changes everything, switching to a slow tenderness spotlighting a young romance between Tyler’s sister Emily (Lost in Space’s Taylor Russell) and Luke (Lucas Hedges). Although a sweet exploration of life and love, the final act doesn’t quite live up to the highs of the first, as the narrative loses momentum with a tale that strays into style over substance.
Kelvin Harrison Jr.’s blistering performance is packed full of an array of emotions wrestling for dominance; with love, pain and rage often come to the forefront. His standout turn fully cements his place as a rising star and one to watch, particularly when sharing the screen with the always phenomenal Sterling K. Brown. Their complicated father-son relationship clearly weighs heavily on Tyler, as the expectations of excellence proves the main catalyst to the young athlete’s downwards spiral. Waves excels most in the moments poised in the centre of this family dynamic; whether that’s the tender, quieter moment as Taylor Russel’s Emily and Brown’s Ronald reconnect, or the frenetic and heartbreaking scene as Tyler fractures his relationship with step mother Catherine (Renée Elise Goldsberry).
The vibrant and hyper stylish cinematography from Drew Daniel, coupled with the beats from Frank Ocean, Radiohead and Kendrick Lamar result in a sensuous experience, heightening the senses. Scenes feel like an extended music video; emulating the euphoric feeling of losing yourself in music and lights, it’s a dazzling and immersive experience. The camera circles and swoops around the main characters, opening with an impressively dizzying opening shot.
Waves is a cathartic and authentic mediation on love, loss and forgiveness; showcasing an innovative and ambitious style of filmmaking that feels like the most A24 film ever. With a lengthy runtime of two hours and fifteen minutes, coupled with a nonlinear and divided storyline, this film may not be for everyone. But if you’re looking for a bold tale that hits you in the heart, Waves is definitely worth taking a chance on.