Written and directed by Trey Edward Stutts, Waves is a stunning journey into the heart of a family in crisis. Following the journey of a suburban African-American family, the film focuses its lens through the eyes of young wrestling star, Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and his sister, Emily (Taylor Russell). Raised in a family led by their well-meaning but over-bearing father, Ronald (Sterling K. Brown), their family is forced to explore the nature of love and forgiveness in the aftermath of tragic circumstances.
Featuring stellar performances from the entirety of its cast and a script that somehow feels authentic in its melodrama, there is an intimacy to Waves that escapes most films. Through his use of color, music, and an ever-moving camera, Stutts draws his audience in by simulating the ebb and flow of the tide amidst his subjects. As a result, whereas most films show you a portrait of life, Waves wants the viewer to experience the lives of its characters first hand. Spinning camera work in the car sequences bring the audience into the moment, complete with all its complicated emotions. Constant close-ups of the characters help the viewer feel as though they are directly involved in the conversations themselves. The film’s bleeding colours oscillate between the energy of youth and terrifying danger. In Waves, every camera movement and sound is set perfectly to maximize the film’s emotional beats.
Unsurprisingly, much of the beauty of Waves lies in the water itself. While water appears in most scenes in one form or another, it also takes on different meanings depending on the moment. As a young couple face a difficult decision together, they stand in the water in such a way as to hide from their problems. In other moments, characters stand in the shower attempting to wash themselves clean of their sins. However, at the same time, characters also bathe together in moments of desire or go fishing in order to find healing and peace. Like so many things in life, water can be both comforting and terrifying at the same time and Stutts uses it as a metaphor for the melodic movements of life that bind us together.
As such, therein lies the beauty of Waves as well. While the film takes place with specific characters at a specific moment in their lives, Waves also feels somewhat universal. While grief and hatred are powerful, love remains the choice that must always be made in order to move forward. (“Love is a 4-letter word, but so is hate,” their pastor cautions.) The traumas and heartbreak that Tyler’s family experience are an intimate portrait of what it means to live lives of grace, despite our circumstances. As each character processes their grief in different ways, each one must come to their own conclusion that forgiveness and hope are inextricably linked. Just as the title suggests, choosing grace over anger washes over these characters and offers healing when they have lost all faith.
While there are many other films in the multiplex this weekend, Waves is one of most worthwhile. By following the movements of life, love and grace, Shults paints a stunning picture of hope in the midst of suffering that must truly be experienced. With waves of water, colour and sound, Shults’ tale is simply stunning and, frankly, one of the best pictures of the year.
For full audio of our interview with Trey Edward Stutts and star Kelvin Harrison Jr., click here.
Waves opens in Toronto on November 22nd and across Canada on December 6th, 2019.