REVIEW: Despite great potential, ‘Waves’ sinks because of story execution issues

When there are waves, it usually means the waters aren’t calm, and that certainly becomes the case in this movie.

Directed by Trey Edward Shults, “Waves” is a film taking place in south Florida that follows a family of four. More specifically, though, the movie centers on the son, Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). Tyler, at the movie’s onset, has a lot going for him. He’s a star athlete in the midst of the wrestling season, he has a loving family and he’s in a good relationship with his girlfriend.

However, as the movie gets going, cracks begin to form in Tyler’s life and these cracks eventually lead to the proverbial dam breaking. The film follows the issues the family goes through in the events that follow.

This is a movie that had a lot of artistic flair, Shults clearly had a vision for this movie, because it’s very stylized. It also has a few fantastic character interactions that feature wonderful acting. This movie did have a lot of good going for it. As a result, it pains me to say that it was a rather frustrating film to sit through.

WavesBLog
Courtesy A24

What hampers “Waves” quite a bit is its narrative structure. The way it builds to a certain event, or events for that matter, come across as a tad rushed. What’s worse, though, is that the film becomes a tale of two halves, and completely switches main characters in the latter portion. It comes across as so jarring to the point where the movie never truly recovers.

It also doesn’t help that some major characters disappear in the second half and a new subplot begins that doesn’t have nearly enough time to be truly fleshed out. It’s understandable the point the movie was trying to make in this regard, but story-wise, it just didn’t come together.

It’s a shame, because the movie really does have scenes with brilliant acting. Sterling K. Brown, for example, is incredible as the father of the family, Ronald. Brown has so many fantastic moments in this movie where he really gets to show off his acting chops.

Taylor Russell, meanwhile, who’s mostly had smaller roles up until this point, completely shines in her role here as Tyler’s sister Emily. Russell has the most emotionally charged sequences in the picture by far and every time she knocks it out of the park.

“Waves” looks fantastic, too. Drew Daniels, the movie’s cinematographer, creates an atmosphere that’s almost hypnotic and draws a viewer’s eyes in. So many moments are well crafted, with interesting shots and wonderful lighting.

There truly is a lot of style here. It has a clear visual identity and some amazing performances. Yet it falls so short in the storytelling that it becomes frustrating to sit through. There are good elements here, but it didn’t come together. 2.9 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

I'm a reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer in Minnesota, and I also have a passion for the art of film. This passion led me to start writing about film in 2008. From 2008-2016 I wrote pieces at my own website, After the Movie Reviews. Then, from 2016-May 2018, my write-ups were featured on AreaVoices, a blog network run by Forum Communications Company. Today, I write film reviews and other pieces here on Word Press. More about me: I'm a 2009 graduate of Rainy River College and a 2012 graduate of Minnesota State University in Moorhead. At MSU, I studied journalism and film. Outside of movies, I enjoy sports, video games, anime and craft beers.

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