The Quake doesn’t break the mold for natural disaster thrillers but, like The Wave, its humanist approach to the genre is refreshing and engaging.
The Quake is the sequel to The Wave, a Norwegian natural disaster thriller that earned strong reviews and eventually became the country’s highest-grossing film in 2015. Director Roar Uthaug would go on to helm the Tomb Raider movie reboot in the wake of its success, and The Wave itself has since becomes something of the gold standard for its genre, thanks to its emphasis on grounded human drama over mindless CGI-fueled spectacle. For the most part, fortunately, The Quake lives up to the standard established by its predecessor. The Quake doesn’t break the mold for natural disaster thrillers but, like The Wave, its humanist approach to the genre is refreshing and engaging.
The film picks up in real-time after the events of The Wave. Geologist Kristian Elkjord (Kristoffer Joner), who predicted the Åkerneset crevasse would collapse and ultimately create a giant tsunami wave in the first place, is still haunted by what he went through and cannot stop thinking about all the people who died because he wasn’t able to warn them in time. As a result, Kristian is now estranged from his family – including, his wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp), daughter Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande), and son Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) – and lives by himself, far away from their home in Oslo.
However, when an old colleague is killed in (seemingly) a freak accident while investigating a tunnel near Oslo, Kristian begins to fear that a massive earthquake is about to hit the Norwegian capital. While his fellow geologist, Johannes Løberg (Stig R. Amdam), initially assures Kristian that his fears are unfounded, the latter soon finds proof to support his hypothesis… though, not before “The Quake” itself gets underway. Hence, it falls to Kristian and his former colleague’s daughter, Marit (Kathrine Thorborg Johansen), to reach and rescue his loved ones before it’s too late.
The Wave writing duo John Kåre Raake and Harald Rosenløw-Eeg returned to write the sequel, with longtime cinematographer John Andreas Andersen stepping in to call the shots in Uthaug’s absence. As a result, The Quake‘s script takes the same character-driven approach to its genre as The Wave, and spends much of its first act exploring the emotional fallout of the previous film (specifically, its effect on Kristian psychologically). The narrative settles into more of a familiar pattern from there and hits most of the expected plot beats – from Kristian gradually putting the clues together to his warnings of imminent danger being ignored by the authorities – before getting to the actual (earth)quake in its final third. Still, while The Quake struggles to offer much in the way of surprises or unexpected twists on the way to its final destination, its does a fine job of executing these tropes and building up to its climactic set piece(s).
Andersen and his team do an similarly nice job of bringing those set pieces to life, despite having a significantly smaller budget to draw from than that for the average Hollywood disaster tentpole. The Quake makes limited, but efficient use of CGI to portray the titular earthquake, in combination with practical effects and smart filmmaking choices that effectively disguise the project’s budgetary limitations. It helps that the film is sharply photographed in general, and no doubt benefits from Andersen’s experience as a cinematographer, in combination with The Wave DP John Christian Rosenlund’s clever shot choices and framing techniques this time around. Oslo itself is a big part of what sets The Quake‘s action and suspense-fueled sequences apart from those in related U.S. genre movies. The city’s unique architecture and layout naturally lends themselves to set pieces that couldn’t be staged the same way in your average American city.
As mentioned earlier, however, The Quake is as much a drama about Kristian being traumatized by the events of The Wave as it is a thrill ride – more so, in many ways. This allows Joner to really flex his acting muscles and dig deep into his character’s damaged mental state, as well as his struggle with survivor’s remorse and inability to let go of the guilt he feels. If there’s a downside to this approach, though, it’s that the rest of Kristian’s family are relegated to the background and The Quake ends up spending little to no time reflecting on their own survivor’s guilt and related problems. Still, the movie spends enough time developing Kristian’s relationships with Idum and Julia to get viewers invested in what happens to them, and even provides Marit with an arc of her own – allowing her to evolve from a grieving daughter to one of the film’s heroes.
While The Quake obviously requires some suspension of disbelief when it comes to the fact that Kristian has now foreseen two “unforeseeable” disasters, it still makes for a worthy continuation of The Wave franchise. Sequels in general aren’t exactly known for devoting much, if any, time to exploring how their protagonists have been traumatized by events in a previous film or films (with exceptions like, say, Iron Man 3), but that’s part of what makes this one such an unusual addition to the pile. The Quake is less groundbreaking than its predecessor in other respects – namely, the plot trajectory and, to a lesser degree, some of the technical elements – but it’s a notable franchise movie for that reason alone.
All in all, The Quake is a sequel that’s deserving of some attention, especially if you were a fan of The Wave in the first place. Of course, those who’ve seen that movie ahead of time will have a deeper understanding of Kristian’s backstory going in, but its sequel still (mostly) works as a standalone adventure, for those who missed its protagonist’s battle with a giant tsunami wave the first time around. The Quake will be playing in select theaters, but will be simultaneously available to watch at home – making it easily accessible for anyone who’s game to stay in and watch a foreign-language film this winter holiday season.
The Quake begins playing in select U.S. theaters and On Demand starting Friday, December 14. It is 106 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of peril and destruction, injury images, and brief strong language.
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