Trey Edward Shults has certainly made a name for himself merely three movies into his career. Though his films are palpable and beautiful, he has crossed into many different genres such as the cathartic drama Krisha or the tense indie horror It Comes At Night.
Now with what is arguably his most personal and moving movie yet, Shults has crafted a visceral, visual masterpiece.
Waves revolves around the Williams Family, focusing on both Tyler and his younger sister Emily. Tyler is the high school wrestling star and has high pressures from both his family and teachers to succeed. When he finds out that his girlfriend Alexis is pregnant and injures himself during a match, Tyler’s world starts to fall apart which directly affects Emily’s life too. Can this family survive the trials and tribulations of two adolescent worlds?
Shutls directs an exquisite movie that has a lot of soulful story-telling as well as spirit within its technical excellence. Though quiet scenes where the characters take too long to say what they want to say, and brooding scenery images feel clichéd, Waves becomes a stunning watch. Juxtaposing both Tyler’s and Emily’s stories, Schutls imbeds details that map out this emotional landscape. Wildly noted is the aspect ratios and the sound design. With Tyler’s story, as he becomes more boxed in by the tragedies of his story. The tightness of the screen mixed with the distorted sounds during more stressful sequences showcases Tyler’s lack of control. All the while in Emily’s more daring, coming of age feels freer as the box of the screen gets wider and the sound gets clearer. It’s an astonishing control of filmmaking that absorbs you into the story.
Shutls has tender moments too through the different tales and through the film that is equally harrowing as it is inspiring. However, it is within the few scenes where both Tyler and Emily interact that the film finds its perfection. A bathtub scene with the drunk and broken Tyler cooing to his younger sister with apologies as they are fearful of waking their parents. Cradling in his arms, it really establishes how vastly different the characters are and the journeys they are on whilst also showcasing the love they have for one another.
The two young actors – Taylor Russell and Kelvin Harrison Jr as Emily and Tyler respectively – are an astonishing watch as they carve different paths for the characters. Harrison Jr is stellar, as seen before in thriller Luce, and despite Tyler consistently making wrong decisions, you understand exactly why he is making them. A teenager put on an almighty pedestal but still falling folly to teenage impulses. He is loud and boisterous in a world that says he should be quiet and unassuming.
This opposes Emily’s story that is delicately woven; a quiet sister who is learning to stand her ground and stand up for herself. Taylor Russell is brilliant on screen, saying so much with such little. Russell is great but, now writing out those words, you can see how having the competitive boy and the meek girl directly opposing each other could come across as utterly clichéd.
Sterling K. Brown also is terrific as the imposing ferocious father who realises over the course of the film that his actions may have been perilous and learns to be open and soften up.
In many ways, the film feels fantastical. Lightning echoes in the background of romantic scenes giving the movie an ethereal element to it. Emily’s story, as she bounds through the swamps and rivers of Miami
There is a lot of strength with Waves including an impressive heavy adolescent jukebox of songs combined with an amazing score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The film is a terrific way of using all our filmmaking tools to cyclic and loop two different stories in together.
It’s brilliantly done, albeit does not bravely subvert expectations. Instead it explores them, intimately using every fame to tell a story, weave a tapestry, and paint a picture. Shults is defined here.
Waves is out in cinemas now!