Waves [TIFF19 Review]

For lack of a better term, Trey Edward Shults has made huge waves as a filmmaker since he released his first film, Krisha. A wonderful new voice with a great eye (thanks to ever-brilliant Drew Daniels who also worked on Euphoria) could make a remarkable contained drama. Then Trey went and made It Comes at Night, and the world realized he can make a wonderful horror film as well. And then comes Waves, and I hope the world realizes like I do, that Trey can make a masterpiece.

If we look at the brief synopsis of the film, it states that it’s about two couples who are trying to deal with life as they fall in love. But to sum up the film to something so simple is a disservice to the film. At the forefront we have Tyler played by Kelvin Harrison Jr. (Luce, It Comes at Night) who has fallen in love with his goddess Alexis, played by Alexa Demie (Euphoria, Mid90’s). And then we also have Tyler’s sister Emily (Taylor Russell who is great in Escape Room) who falls for Luke (Lucas Hedges, fellow A24 alum). I appreciate that the love interest’s names don’t veer too much away from their real names.

While both couples are falling in love, they are dealing with the struggle and fall out of all these things that are happening around them. While Tyler has an injury and as seemingly a star wrestler on his high school team, it severely spirals his mind, Emily sees a family trying to stay together and fighting for it, but they’re all losing hope.

There’s effortlessness that can be found in the film. In the structure of it all, it feels so freeing. And at first, it comes as a hindrance. I wasn’t sure where the film would go and it feels like we are naturally watching these moments occur, almost like a documentary. Which somehow finds a way to add weight but also not hold anything down. In fact, we later found out that the actors would act and wouldn’t even realize the cameras were rolling. Or they’d be so lost in the moment, they forgot it was for a film.

It was a great surprise knowing that Reznor and Ross worked on the score. It was propulsive and soothing. Alongside all the needle drops for a superb soundtrack. Side by side are tracks from ASAP Rocky, Kanye, Frank Ocean and even SZA. Just like R&R’s score, it makes you want to party and then just relax in a bathtub with your loved one.

And that’s the beauty of the film, it works with this idea of balance. The beauty and the ugly, or the pain and the love. And there is so much love in it, which means there is so pain and anguish sprinkled throughout it. Waves is an assault of your senses and an assault on your emotions, but it’s highly welcomed. As humans, we need and seek balance. We won’t always be happy, but we won’t always be sad. We look for the good and bad, and often these emotions come at you in waves. I’ve been overwhelmingly happy and then extremely depressed the next night. But Trey tells a story of the balance. We can not pick ourselves up and stand stronger until we have fallen. And we will fall, it is human nature to fall. But it’s also human nature to get back up, strive, and survive.

Trey Edward Shults is a very personal director, one who opens himself up and gladly gives us all of himself. In Krisha, he wrote a family drama and gave the lead role to his aunt and is based on his own cousin who suffered a relapse at a family reunion. For It Comes At Night, we were given a horror film that came from a reaction to losing his father to cancer, and about how they have a tumultuous relationship and haven’t spoken to one another in nearly ten years, but Trey spoke to him to say goodbye and leave that regret. Shults only knows how to be personal and open that when he makes a film that isn’t tied to him or his upbringing, he makes it more personal than the ones before it.

Trey Edward Shults is an artist in the way he paints and moulds the screen to fit the story he wishes to tell, and he allows his art to breathe and flow from one creation to the next for every stage of the film. In his latest piece of art, he has a given us a film about love and pain that will stick with you and might do so for the ages.