This gripping drama leaves us grieving for this family.
“Waves” is a family drama divided in two sides. The first half focuses on the main son, while the second half is on the daughter, and both sides are emotionally heartbreaking. Written and directed by Trey Edward Shults (“It Comes at Night,” “Krisha”), the movie eases you into the character’s lives, and then it goes deeper and deeper, until we see the true colors inside.
We begin with Tyler (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) a high school senior and wrestler, whose career becomes at risk, because of his wounded shoulder. This is based on how his father Ronald (Sterling K. Brown) has pushed him to the limit, and when he ignores his doctor’s warnings of setting up an operation ASAP, his wrestling career is over.
He’s also in a relationship with Alexis (Alexa Demie from “Mid90s” and HBO’s “Euphoria”), who becomes pregnant, and decides to keep it, much to his chagrin. His behavior becomes so unacceptable that she dumps him, and he begins drinking, up to the point of crashing her prom party with dire consequences.
This reveals the movie’s true nature, and leaves us being reminded a tiny bit of the death flashback in “Manchester by the Sea.”
Now on to Emily (Taylor Russell), who begins a relationship with Tyler’s teammate, a nicer teen named Luke (Lucas Hedges), while struggling with the aftermath of her brother’s horrors. She was at the party and did nothing to stop him. And their father and step-mother (Renee Elise Goldsberry) are also rattled by this nightmare, and how he has been less of a father to Emily. Both father and daughter feel guilty, but they both know the boy made his choices.
She also inspires Luke to visit his terminally ill father and forgive him for his abuse towards him and his mother.
I was a bit nauseated by its segments of colorful lights and loud party music, which threaten to distract us from the movie. But there are hits from Frank Ocean, Kanye West, and Chance the Rapper, among others that help shape the environment the characters live in. And the score is breathtakingly composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
But more importantly, we meet the family and their ambitions, faults, and decisions, as well as their friends and lovers. I didn’t know what to expect, other than “Waves” being a family drama with a diverse cast.
Harrison, Jr. ignites the screen as the angry son; Russell reveals herself as a fine young actress and not just some thriller star (“Escape Room,” Netflix’s “Lost in Space”); and Brown delivers one of his most distinguished performances. All these characters are affected by the same trauma, and we really feel bad for them. And even Hedges adds a sweetness to the story, as probably the only character not to judge Emily for what her brother did.
There’s a certain complexity inside Shults’ script that eats the characters up and leaves them wallowing in their own messes. Some of them, at the very least, have a chance to change, and we care about them.