Waves – 2019 Shults
- Trey Edward Shults’ Waves feels like something big. It is Shults’ third film—at the age of 31. Waves is a breakthrough for Shults’—it looks and feels like Krisha (Shults has an identifiable aesthetic—the mark of an auteur)—but where Krisha is a 6/10 in ambition—Waves is going for it—there wasn’t a more ambitious film made in 2019 in many ways—and that’s a year where Tarantino and Scorsese were given 100m+ in budget to do whatever they want.
- Waves starts off with a bang—after a brief shot of Taylor Russell’s Emily riding through the streets on a bike we’re off and running with aggressive rolling tracking shots showing Kelvin Harrison Jr.’s Tyler and his life. A 360-degree shot of Tyler with his girlfriend in the car (the first of 3-4 of these shots– and a shot Shults also employed in Krisha). Whip pans are the transitions and Shults paints a portrait of this American family largely without dialogue— simply with filmmaking bravura
- There is an abundance of blues and reds throughout the film. Believable color design like Kieslowski’s work or if we’re looking at 2019 we’re talking about Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood with yellow—2018’s Ash is the Purest White from Jia Zhangke did the same thing with the three chapters and use of three distinct colors. Certainly- back to Waves– the red is violence, blood—and the blues represent the cooler melodic second half of the film (Emily’s section)—I’m not entirely sure. But it makes for a cohesive visual design in the mise-en-scene. The awning at the diner, the car, the clothes, the team colors, Lucas Hedges literally hands the Russell character a blueberry sucker —a key here is the red and blue curtains in Harrison Jr’s room. Then as the film dissolves (after the haunting tracking shot of him stalking his ex-girlfriend) into a Native Son-like nightmare or Requiem of a Dream-like freefall (aided by the continual use of an abrasive film score and Kayne West music drops) we get the exaggerated/expressionistic red and blue of the police sirens (like the Safdie’s Good Time) and then as we literally go into a tunnel and come out the other side—a lava lamp-like color palate kaleidoscope interlude much like PT Anderson’s Punch Drunk–love.
- That breaking point is a dead stop for the film. During that color dump interlude that fades to black we come out if it in another film. We’re now in a narrative surrounding Russell’s Emily (who played a minor character in the first half of the film). She’s calmer—more introverted. She’s grieving—the trauma just happened to the entire family. It’s calmer, meditative- and the score and musical choices (Frank Ocean, Radiohead) match that.
- Didn’t read these until after the film and writing my review but really spot on from Joshua Rothopf who writes for Timeout “The artistic evolution Shults is undergoing makes him as exciting as anyone working today—he’s as sharp as a young Darren Aronofsky, and his heart is only growing larger.”
- Shults alters the aspect ratios as well when it suits the character’s moods—he’s not the first to do this (my favorite may be Xavier Dolan’s expanding of the screen in Mommy)
- The formal boldness of creating two films within has to harken back to WKW’s Chungking Express or Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Syndromes and a Century (or almost all of Weerasethakul’s is bifurcated) but drastic narrative shifts moving from one character to another really start with Hitchcock in Psycho I believe or Antonioni with L’Avventura the same year.
- Shults can throw every pitch stylistically—I’ve mentioned the tracking shots with the camera movement, the use of color, he sets a frame (the symmetry and splendor of a shot in a church is a stunner but there are more)– he tries, through film style, to put the viewer in the head space of the characters. It’s the close-up of Pacino with the train whistle before the shooting of Sterling Hayden—it’s Hitchcock and Aronofsky in Pi. It’s the scene where everything goes haywire in the office of Punch-Drunk Love or the oilrig on fire scene in There Will Be Blood
- My guy Justin Chang for the LA times—“This is intensely physical filmmaking…”
- I’m still processing but I’m calling it a Must-See for now