Tuesday, November 26, 2019


I watch movies as someone who desperately wants to make more movies. I try to find inspiration in everything I watch, whether that inspiration motivates me to create something similar, or cautions me to avoid themes and techniques completely. In real life, I’m constantly putting images into aspect ratios; I’m listening to songs on repeat and creating montages around them. There is a mechanism in my brain that does not allow me to experience situations idly. I am always trying to frame my experiences into a film.

I say all of this to explain the impact Trey Edward Shults’ Waves had on me. Early in the film, I noted how strange it was that every choice being made in the movie was a choice I fully agreed with. Every camera movement, light placement, acting beat, song drop, and editing cut seamlessly aligned with my personal taste. Watching Waves felt like I was watching a film I’ve wanted to make in my dreams. I truly cannot remember the last time I connected with a movie so intensely.

With no degree of uncertainty, Waves is one of the very best films I have seen in years. I know I’m at risk for being hyperbolic here, but I cannot overstate the impact this movie had on me. Every word of its script is written with dignity and poise, and every visual and auditory choice is made to enhance the film’s singular atmosphere.
Waves is about family. It’s about youth, love, and disruption. It’s about the emotional virtues of ascent, and the devastating impact of descent. Waves is about the mistakes we make – ranging from careless to criminal – and the lasting effects those mistakes have on us, and the people who love us.

This is a film that should be experienced, as opposed to read about, but the core of Waves is about a family of four, anchored by a motivated high school kid named Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). Tyler is an intelligent, musically inclined, star athlete who works for a business run by his demanding father, Ronald (Sterling K. Brown), and his supportive mother, Catharine (RenĂ©e Elise Goldsberry). But perhaps the most sacred relationship in the house is between Tyler and his younger sister, Emily (Taylor Russell), who herself is learning about the waves of life. Everyone in the film is great, but Russell may be the most magnetic. It’s difficult to describe Emily without revealing too much about the film’s story, but so much of the emotional impact of Waves rests on Russell’s eyes. She is a performer of astounding emotional command.
Things go well for Tyler and his family, until they don’t. Some of this is circumstantial and beyond Tyler’s control. Other issues are the result of poor choices that catch up with him. And much like in life, when the deck is stacked against you, it can be hard to find someone to listen, let alone trust. Some of us cope by keeping quiet and fighting through the pain. But sometimes the pain is so loud, it’s bound to erupt.

Waves captures those eruptions through fierce performances (the four lead actors all deliver career-best work), colorful and fluid cinematography (DP Drew Daniels deserves endless praise for his visual technique), scene-appropriate editing (co-editors Shults and Isaac Hagy know exactly how to cover each scene), and one of the finest soundtracks of recent memory, with contributing tracks from Tame Impala, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Frank Ocean, and Radiohead, and an accompanying score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

The resulting film is a miraculous emotional achievement that spends each one of its 135 minutes showcasing honest truth and pain. Everyone involved in this movie has contributed to artistic excellence. They’ve created something so profoundly moving that it can genuinely effect change.  
Trey Edward Shults started small with his debut feature, Krisha, a mostly perfect family drama made for $30,000, shot in Shults’ actual home (a location used again in Waves), using many of Shults’ real family members as actors. Shults didn’t wait to make Krisha. He didn’t rely on studio money coming in, or a fancy independent investor to write a massive check. Instead, he had an idea to make a movie, and he made it using the resources available to him. I absolutely love that Shults made his first film that way, because it proves that if you have vision, and you have intention, then that deserves to be captured on film.

Waves is not only good, it is life. I saw the film two days ago and have avoided reading anything about it. I honestly have no clue how other people are responding to it, and that really shouldn’t matter. The artistry displayed in the film is nearly unmatched in contemporary cinema, at least by my standards. And the emotional implications of the film are nothing less than profound. After all, isn’t life a series of waves? Most of us are doing our best. Some of us are struggling. We all come from a place that has helped shape who we are, and how we respond to things. We can try to predict the harsh terrors of life, or stay stuck on the past, but maybe it’s best to ride whatever wave you’re currently on, and only hope to find some peace at the end of it. A+


  1. I do want to see this. I want to hear what Trent & Atticus is doing while it definitely looks interesting as having this somewhat Malickian look. I hope to check it out though it's likely I'll have to wait for it as there's so many other films coming yet there's so little time to see them. Even as I'm dealing with the constant demands of a 7 1/2 month old baby who just tried pizza for the first time a few days ago.

    1. So many movies, so little time. But I would love to hear your thoughts on this one when you get around to seeing it. I absolutely loved it.

      But more importantly, congratulations! Is that your new baby?!

  2. My indie theater has this on their "coming soon" page so I'll definitely see it soon. I liked the trailer and I'm curious to see what it's like. I remember when I first started reading about it earlier this year, it was described almost like a musical which made zero sense to me once I saw the trailer put together. I'm guessing music just plays a big part of it?

    1. I remember hearing that musical thing too, and that's kind silly. Music does play a huge part in the film, but it isn't playing constantly, and characters certainly aren't breaking into song and dance haha. I would love to hear your thoughts on this one if it comes your way! I don't know if this will help push you to see it, but this movie is definitely one of my top 10 films of the 2010s. I loved it.