The Wave, 2020.
Directed by Gille Klabin.
Starring Justin Long, Tommy Flanagan, Katia Winter, Donald Faison, Sheila Vand, and Bill Sage.
Frank, an opportunistic insurance lawyer, thinks he’s in for the time of his life when he goes out on the town to celebrate an upcoming promotion with his co-worker, Jeff – but their night takes a turn for the bizarre when Frank is dosed with a hallucinogen that completely alters his perception of the world.
Gille Klabin’s The Wave adds itself to an expansive list of films that use narcotics as a means of unlocking spiritual enlightenment. From John Dies At The End to even Booksmart, there’s something to say about characters being unable to see clearly without inebriation. In this case, Carl W. Lucas scripts a psychotropic descent into societal unhappiness, with plenty of electric coloring and cosmically hallucinogenic landscapes. None of which are notably revelatory, but still tumble down an LSD’er rabbit hole with addictive intrigue to spare.
Justin Long stars as Frank, a man in need of his wallet. He lost it somewhere between saving his law firm millions by negating a life insurance payout and swapping drug-laced spit with a random girl while celebrating his huge professional win – if timelines can be trusted. Whatever dealer Aeolus (Tommy Flanagan) allows Frank to ingest sends the married business lackey on a trip between realities where clocks mean nothing and everything. Friend and co-worker Jeff (Donald Faison) tries to understand, but Frank’s frequent ability to disappear at random calculates no reason. Still, can it provide the answers Frank needs? Like, seriously, where is his damn wallet?
Frank’s is a story of freedom and incredulousness. A man whose entire life is built upon cashing corporate paychecks as defendants suffer, yet guilty of the same financial perils that trade mortgages for 4K televisions. Who are we – viewers being collectively represented by Frank – allowing ourselves to be? Compliant little cogs satiated by numbing expectations, or adventurers who aren’t “freshly scrubbed” like the piss-soaked bathroom floors within Jeff’s favorite dive the El Madrid?
Long’s performative disorientation remains a paramount advantage, given how The Wave starts by recalling scientific experimentation using test drugs based on stimulants releases during death – and only spirals further. Frank’s barfly female companion goes missing (Theresa, played by Sheila Vand), coke peddlers start car chases, and boardrooms morph into fluorescent hellscapes meant to torture an unrighteous legal worker. It’s all commentary about karmic balances and the universe’s way of using fate to keep an even keel, storming within one man’s head. Meant to suggest he’s “escaped the Matrix” so to say, even if the feeble throughline becomes a shifty dragon to chase.
As we’re reminded about how what we do on this Earth matters, rippling consequential checks and balances, The Wave yanks Frank and drops him into chaos at random. This can be a comical and confounding mechanism, as drug den bodyguards grapple with the mystifying voodoo before them. In other instances, we’re left trying to piece together this otherworldly universe that’s trying to save Frank’s soul. Aeolus becomes Frank’s trippy-hippy architect, Sheila Vand’s temptress his siren, and the word “baby” this tie that binds. It’s all a neon-hazy cloud of self-indulgence and grander meanings that defies the laws of science, but works better as a ride you zip through than word-for-word manifesto.
Direction feels instinctively out-of-body and lacking control, as Gille Klabin thrusts Frank’s world into unpredictability without warning (until the “key” to warps is discovered). The Wave wants you to sink into your seat, flush any mental blockage, and become one with Frank’s transcendent journey. As you’ve gathered, success outweighs confusion but the latter still exists in small doses. Carl W. Lucas’ script accepts the challenge of defining paradoxical rules in order to prescribe an antidote for the world’s congestive malaise, which is an inherently uphill battle. Justin Long, Donald Faison, and Katia Winter (playing tag-along Natalie) rise to the challenge of engaging viewers with their unfathomable real-world reactions to an improbable phenomenon, which lessens the heavy-lifting of a script that at-time reads more prophetic than executed.
The Wave is best experienced without trying to dissect or explain, hence why my dive into this tainted therapy doesn’t reach exponentially deep. What’s important is when asked to swallow this potent pill, you say yes. There’s something lyrically calming about the hyperdrive hysteria Gille Klabin sets in motion, even when Justin Long’s face is covered with enough upper and downer residue to kill an adult gorilla. A film that starts at “Point A” and ends somewhere on Xanadu, yet opens up a world larger than what we’ve convinced ourselves is uncontrollable. Zone in, tune out, and ride The Wave as far as it’ll take you, baby.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd (@DoNatoBomb).