Eric’s Chattanooga Film Festival Review: The Wave (2020)

ATMOSfx! Woo!
Justin Long waking up from a drug induced bender in The Wave
★★★★ out of ★★★★★
The Wave is a dark sci-fi comedy that explores the collision of hallucinogens, a mid-life crisis, time travel, legal ethics, the afterlife, and lots of really poor decisions. Justin Long stars in this tale of a man who loses everything but finds his own personal truth in the end. Ooooo! Trippy!

Directed by Gille Klabin

It’s a little crazy to realize that Justin Long has been making movies for 21 years now. He first gained notice as the eager Trekkie, Brandon in Galaxy Quest, but got his first big starring role in Jeepers Creepers in a memorable turn as Darry, and you may also recognize him from Drag Me to Hell and Tusk. His boyish appearance and puppy-dog charm also got him lots of roles in stoner comedies and Rom-coms, but now, he’s a middle-aged man, and The Wave serves as a terrific platform for the next phase in his career as it focuses on a man in transition.

Long plays Frank, an unscrupulous lawyer, looking to move up the corporate ladder, in search of affirmation and promotion from his even more unethical boss. He has a lovely fiance, Cheryl (Sarah Minnich) with who bosses him around, and their future together looks to become very pedestrian. On the precipice of the biggest case closing of his career, he decides to sneak out of the house and, in a fit of mid-life anxiety, goes to party with his impish buddy Jeff (Donal Faison, Scrubs). This is the initial bad decision, in a series of bad decisions that will plague Frank in this movie.

Sheila Vand is your hallucinatory trip advisor in The Wave

When going to a bar to celebrate Frank’s big score, Jeff manages to find a couple of two pretty young women, Theresa (Sheila Vand) and Natalie (Katia Winter) who are decidedly not impressed with Frank’s stiff lawyerly ways. But, Frank is smitten with Theresa’s challenging dialogue, and he immediately slips into trying to impress her. This becomes problematic when, after going to the bar, the four of them go to a house party, and Frank finds himself in front of a mysterious and charismatic drug peddler.

In desperation to be cool, and to impress Theresa, the two of them consume a drop of The Wave, a powerful hallucinogen that transports Frank through time, space, and reality. When he finally comes to, he is the only one left remaining at the house party, and he realizes that he is already late for his big closing proposal at his office. Whoops!

This triggers a whole series of spiraling events that could cost him his job, his marriage, his friendships, and his sanity. Frank becomes a lost man in his own life. Theresa has gone missing, but appears to him in his hallucinations like an angel. He is physically blinking in and out of reality and back in forth in time. And, in trying to find answers, manages to put his life, and the life of everyone around him in peril.

Justin Long goes on a trip, the hard way, in The Wave

This is a curious movie, to be sure. There has been a recent trend of drug themed horror movies, like Bliss, Synchronic, and John Dies at The End which explore the transportive potential in hallucinogens. This movie does it too, but with a lighter, more comedic touch. I’m not sure that I would even call it a horror movie so much as it might be a science fiction thriller. In addition to the aforementioned drug themed thrillers, this has elements of The Hangover, Falling Down, and tellingly, A Christmas Carol. In the end, this is a morality tale, with a fantastically dark twist for closure.

I love Long’s straight-man trying to recapture his lost youth. He is a man who has lost his way, and this drug, and all the horrible events that befall Frank inform you of a guy really needing a kick in the ass, but is essentially a sympathetic guy. He reminds me of Keanu Reeves, doe-eyed and bewildered, and like Reeves, has found a way to trade in that boyish doofy charm into middle-aged gullibility. (Think Knock Knock).

This is Gille Klabin’s first feature film, and he shows a knack for snappy editing transitions, and should be credited for keeping all the threads together for a film that easily could have gotten out of control. He has a visual sense that with some fairly simple techniques creates some trippy visuals to great effect. Some of the distortions resemble my Prism phone app paintings, but I found that a great way to convey something just on the other side of reality. Writer Carl W. Lucas gave us a story that managed to zip in and out of reality but never got lost, and better yet, managed to convey the chaos without long exposition sequences.

The Wave is Rated R for heavy drug use and profanity. It was recently playing at the Chattanooga Film Festival and is currently available on Amazon Prime.

Review by Eric Li

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