Logo for Byte Magazine at Ball State University

Heartland Film Festival 2019: With ‘Waves,’ A24 has done it again

Image from Heartland
Image from Heartland

In the ever-shifting landscape of modern indie cinema, no  distributor has left a greater mark on the landscape than the infamous  A24. It struck out the box office with titles ranging from mind-benders  like Swiss Army Man and this past summer’s Midsommar, to deep psychological horror like It Comes at Night and the infamous Hereditary. It even goes on to Oscar contenders like The Florida Project and 2016 Best Picture Winner Moonlight, which shows the bench of hits under this no-longer-fledgling studio’s belt are insane achievements.

 Now enter another one surely for the record books — Waves,  directed by Trey Edward Shults, follows the Williams family: the  headstrong Tyler (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.), self-reliant Emily (Taylor  Russel), their stepmother Catharine (Renée Elise Goldsberry), and the  patriarchal Ronald (Sterling K. Brown) as they live their way through  the American Dream in South Florida. Tyler is fighting desperately to  live up to his father’s growing expectations for his wrestling career.  Emily is still trying to cope with the death of her mother… and the  antics of the family cat. However, after a catastrophic series of events  throws the family’s unity into peril, they’re forced to confront their  worst fears about not just the people around them, but themselves.

Coming into my screening of the movie, a common descriptor I heard from members of the House was that Waves was effectively the cinematic equivalent to This is Us. For clarification, This is Us  is an NBC dramedy series known for two things: soap opera-esque  melodrama, and the ability to turn people into sobbing puddles of fleshy  emotions. While this comparison isn’t entirely wrong, the devil lies in  the fact that Waves has a sense of sincere pathos that I feel wholly surpasses the show by the guy who unleashed the dreaded Life Itself upon  humanity. You genuinely root for and sympathize with the family at the  core of this narrative, even as things escalate to an extreme degree. 

Harrison and Russel make for charming leads whose characters go  to interesting depths (if Harrison doesn’t get any awards for his work  as Tyler in this movie, it’ll be the crime of the century), and Brown  gives a knock-out performance in what is, at its core, a very  reactionary role. Everything in this film oozes some level of humanity,  from the score to the movie’s trademark 360-degree car shots, to even  the aspect ratio. Much like the film’s namesake, everything in this  movie has some level of motion and some level of life running  independent of everything else around it. It’s utterly trance inducing.

When it comes to any cracks in the proverbial armor, it brings us back to the This is Us  comparison. While I personally didn’t mind how the film plays out  (largely due to its shifting forms of presentation and the performances  on display), I can very easily see how that brand of storytelling could  turn off some viewers, especially near the end. However, from my  perspective, Waves manages to overcome  that hurdle in such a manner that, melodramatic or not, still feels true  to not only the characters, but the overall narrative as a whole.

Waves is a cinematic balancing act that  just as easily confronts you with the psychological terrors of the  modern day as much as it proves that life is worth living again. While  it isn’t hard to see how some could interpret the movie’s twists and  turns as melodrama, it just as easily accounts for that with a cast  firing on all cylinders and a unique visual language that stands out  from all the dramas we’ve gotten this year. Without any hesitation, I’d  say that this movie stands to become a shiny new jewel in A24’s crown, a  surefire hit when it releases worldwide on November 30, and a total  achievement for all parties involved in putting this wonderful film  together. It’s an utter tsunami of palpable passion.

Featured Image: Heartland

For more entertainment related content, visit us at Byte BSU!