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'Waves' (2019) - Film Review

An in depth film review of 'Waves', starring Kelvin Harrison Jr, Taylor Russel, Alexa Demie, Sterling K. Brown and Renée Elise Goldsberry


Running time

135 minutes




Trey Edward Shults


Trey Edward Shults


Waves is an emotional rollercoaster that will tear your heart right out, but also do its best to mend it back together. Set in modern day South Florida, it follows a suburban African American family and their navigation through love, loss and forgiveness.

  • Tyler is an aspiring young wrestler and is constantly putting pressure on himself to be better. With an overbearing father, he pushes himself to his limits. He finds haven through his girlfriend Alexis, however, these limits have a huge impact on the livelihoods of all his family members and anybody around Tyler
  • Emily is Tyler's younger sister. She is a little socially awkward due to her dealing with great loss in her life. When she meets Luke, her personality starts to shine and they go on a journey to find absolution and forgiveness.
  • This movie follows these two characters and is told through their perspectives. The film is deeply personal and is a harrowing tale of family tragedy, which is a gut punch for the audience. However, weaving its way through the film is the power of healing and how you will always have people you can count on in your life.

Positives of 'Waves'

  • I am in complete awe of this film as I have never seen anything like it before. In an industry that is consistently evolving, standing out is supremely difficult. This is a visceral experience and speaks from the heart in a way that can only move people. It will shock you and give you the feeling of being unable to catch your breath (in all of the right ways) as you are put right there into the movie and living these experiences with the characters.
  • Trey Edward Shults - This film is an example of masterful moviemaking as Shults has a clear picture of what he wants to present and does so superbly. He asked his actors to draw upon their own experiences to play the roles he had created, so that they would seem authentic and relatable to the audience. He really wants you to feel everything that these characters feel, and this happens in a way that I haven't experienced before. The feelings you receive from this film follow you around afterwards and in my opinion, is one of the best visions and directed pieces I have seen for some time.
  • Visual Art - This is arguably the strongest aspect of the movie as everything you see on screen is meticulously chosen to convey a certain emotion or feeling. The camera moves organically, with a focus on people. The movie manipulates the lights, colour, framework and aspect ratio to immerse the audience into the movie. The film is aesthetically gorgeous and the cinematography is beautiful, with a colour palette like no other. It can be a very disorientating and heavy experience but this only adds to the movie's intentions and impact.
  • Music - Like everything in this movie, the music is carefully chosen, and chosen to express how each character is feeling at any given moment. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross composed the film score, and in collaboration with Shults, they created a real immersive soundtrack. The music is introduced to match the emotion of the characters and you can see their development through music genres. From the opening track of Tame Impala's 'Be Above it' to Kanye West's 'I Am A God', the music is consistently changing to match the character arch.
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Performances of Note

To create a film such as Waves, the acting has to be spot on and this cast really capture the vision of Shults as you completely buy into the direction that he wants to go in.

Kelvin Harrison Jr (Tyler): This performance, for me, is Harrison Jr's best to date, as he plays the role of Tyler amazingly. The audience is able to see his character completely break down before their eyes, as he has deal with the constant pressures that being a young African American man brings. There is turbulence of emotions you feel for Tyler and this is a testament to his performance that the audience can grasp all of these feelings with him. The chemistry between him and his girlfriend, Alexis (Alexa Demie), is believable and real. Fantastic performance.

Taylor Russel (Emily): Emily's character development is captured superbly by Russell, as you see her growing up on screen. The way in which she is able to make her character seem like a quiet and timid young woman and change into this soulful and tenacious woman who is bursting with life is quite remarkable. Her chemistry with Luke (Lucas Hedges) is the driving force for a lot of the movie and you are completely invested in their story and believe in them. This was the first film I saw her in and cannot wait to see what else she does.

Renée Elise Goldsberry (Catherine) and Sterling K. Brown (Ronald): I wanted to put these two together in my discussion of their performances, as I think they are absolutely outstanding. Whenever they are in a scene together, they are completely captivating and force the audience to feel what they feel. The loss that this family experiences resonates with the audience. The way in which these two characters deal with this experience shows the struggles that everyone would go through in that horrific situation. There is a scene where Ronald is speaking to Emily and he is able to evoke so much emotion through his facial expressions. It's damn near amazing.


Negatives of 'Waves'

I have very little negativity to discuss with Waves, however, I certainly realise that this movie would not be for everyone and will analyse some aspects which may not be enjoyed by all audiences.

  • The structure of this movie is very different to the generic filmmaking of many other films and this could come at the expense of annoyance to some audience members. I happen to think it's brilliant and original, however, I understand it may not sit well with some people and that is perfectly acceptable.
  • The lighting and strobe effect which come into play in certain scenes, as I have suggested, can be a very heavy experience and definitely isn't for everyone. I personally think it really adds to the immersive involvement for the audience, but some may think that it is a bit too much, which is a fair assessment.


I absolutely love this film, as it isn't like anything I have ever experienced before and I would recommend it to everyone. It was difficult to write this review as I have tried my upmost to not spoil any of the film. I wanted to describe enough to make you want to see it. Whether you love or hate it, I think everyone can appreciate the visuals that this films offers and how superb the acting is. I'll admit that this is not an easy watch and really tackles some hard hitting experiences that nobody would wish upon another person. However, the overarching feeling I had after the movie was a sense of optimism and the power of family. This film really needs to be watched by as many people as possible and I am very much looking forward to anything Trey Edward Shults creates in the future.

5 out of 5

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