After his striking, minimalist horror It Comes at Night in 2017, filmmaker Trey Edward Shults returns with Waves, a powerful, emotionally-charged family drama set in the vibrant landscape of south Florida.
Released in the USA via A24, the independent distribution company behind the likes of The Witch (and with 25 Academy Award nominations to date), Waves, Shults’s third film, arrives on a tide of critical acclaim and eager audience anticipation. Here are five reasons to catch Waves when it hits Cineworld on the 17th of January…
1. Director Trey Edward Shults is a serious talent
At just 31 years of age, Shults is very quickly establishing himself as an intriguing new voice in American cinema. Having written and directed each one his projects so far (including both feature length and short films), Shults has shown to have more than one creative string to his bow, proving to be just as proficient penning a script as he is holding a camera.
With a gift for delivering compelling, intimate storytelling, Shults is blessed with an astute eye for character-driven narrative, with Waves promising to deliver a tale that, while informed in part by its director’s own experiences, tackles complex, universal issues of loss, forgiveness, masculinity and family frictions.
In a 2019 interview with GQ, Shults, who grew up in Texas, cites Richard Linklater’s early 1990s coming of age comedy Dazed and Confused as a key influence for Waves. If the film proves even half as influential as Linklater’s seminal cult classic, we’re in for a real treat.
2. Drew Daniels is one of American cinema’s most exciting new cinematographers
Having worked as director of photography on Shult’s previous feature films (including 2015’s Krisha), Drew Daniels returns once again to collaborate on Waves.
A fellow Texan, Daniels possesses a seemingly innate ability to capture the uncomfortable in everyday life. Skin, a 2018 short film about racial tensions and directed by Israeli filmmaker Guy Nattiv, was shot by Daniels and went on to win the Oscar for Best Live Action Short at the 2019 Academy Awards.
He’s unquestionably an artist on the rise, and, like Shults, can frame human drama with such fresh, captivating beauty that it’s almost impossible to turn away. During the opening credits of Waves, there's an acknowledgment for 'colorist' Damien Van Der Cruyssen, an indication of the bold visual majesty to be found in the movie.
3. The cast is just as impressive
In the form of Taylor Russell and Kelvin Harrison Jr. (who also featured in It Comes at Night), the film brings together two blossoming, breakout stars of the silver screen. They play siblings Emily and Tyler, whose various points of view help propel the narrative of Waves.
Meanwhile, Alexa Demie (best known for her role in the HBO drama Euphoria and Jonah Hill’s directorial debut Mid90s) and Lucas Hedges (Oscar nominee fort Manchester By the Sea) give Waves’ ensemble real pedigree.
Alongside them is Broadway star Renée Elise Goldsberry and Golden Globe winner Sterling K. Brown; the latter is a commanding screen presence familiar from the likes of hit TV show This Is Us.
4. It’s been awash with critical acclaim
Shults’ film has been riding a wave of festival buzz since premiering at the Telluride Film Festival (TFF) in August 2019. After subsequent screenings at festivals in both Toronto and London, reviews of Waves have been flooded with praise for the depths it reaches, with Brian Tallerico, writing for RogerEbert.com, calling it a “more profound film than your average character drama, a masterpiece that’s hard to walk away from without checking your own grievances and grief”.
Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers gives similar commendation to Waves’ powerful emotional resonance, proclaiming that “Waves draws you into its tidal flow, focusing on four characters whose stories the filmmaker tells through sensory, nonlinear moments, all of them dipping between joy and tragedy.
“The characters created by Shults exude a tenderness that allows this achingly intimate drama to move past sorrow and hit you like a shot in the heart.”
Manohla Dargis, in her review for The New York Times, likens Shults’ craft to that of other contemporary young “American expressionists” like Barry Jenkins and Robert Eggers, “who, despite the differences in their subjects, share a commitment to visual storytelling”.
Sheri Linden of The Hollywood Reporter also credits the film’s visual allure, noting Waves’ power as being “inseparable from its intricate aesthetic layers” and labelling it a “tender, bruising, exuberant film”.
5. It sounds as great as it looks
Boasting the musical talents of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Waves promises to be a feast for the ears as well as the eyes. The pair have formidable credentials behind them, having twice collaborated with acclaimed director David Fincher on The Social Network and the English-language remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (winning an Academy Award for the former), as well as providing the sound for Mid90s.
Complementing their score, Waves’ soundtrack features an impressive compilation of artists across several genres, from Alabama Shakes to A$AP Rocky, Frank Ocean to Tame Impala, and Amy Winehouse to Kanye West. Shults has already acknowledged the influence music had in defining his own high school experience, and he quite clearly understands how the varying sounds and contrasting beats of different music genres reflect the ebbing and flowing, ever-changing moods of life.
George Nash is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team. Follow him on Twitter.