October 9, 2019

VIFF 2019 | Trey Edward Shults Makes 'Waves'

"All we have is now."
VIFF 2019—Texas filmmaker Trey Edward Shults continues his artfully unconventional method of telling American stories of grief. Waves, his third ambitious feature, centers on an affluent but troubled African-American family in deep turmoil in Southern Florida. Essentially two different but interconnected films about a series of escalating events, Shults uses teenagers to tell different sides and perspectives of a family incident.

Starring Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Taylor Russell as brother/sister Tyler and Emily, Waves is two separate stories about the siblings' lives before and after a dramatic event. Sterling K. Brown and Renée Elise Goldsberry lead the household as their stern but loving parents.

Each half follows their different teenage romantic relationships with the firey Alexa Demie and affably goofy Lucas Hedges as their love interests. Everyone involved has a bright future but family and school pressures alongside the desire to go to the beach and have fun set off their unexpected anxieties and emotions.

Sterling K. Brown Trey Edward Shults Waves | VIFF 2019

Shults and cinematographer Drew Daniels frame their visceral stories and character reactions so artfully fluid relying more on movement and looks than dialogue. It's a rather conventional teenage story of the usual romantic and school conflict. However, the feelings expressed and moods carry the emotional weight of the drama in the characters.

How melodrama and feelings are put to screen may seem frustrating with frequent languid sequences of driving set to pulsating music exploring the Florida suburbs. It's an unconventional way telling a conventional narrative but the actors make it work. Brown and Russell, in particular, use their soulful, emotive faces to express the weight of their worry and grief while Harrison and Goldsberry wear their anger much more obviously.

Shults makes Waves into an intensely staggering personal drama of a family on the brink of crumbling. His soulful filmmaking and sideways storytelling create a tense but artful atmosphere showcasing its Florida setting sumptuously. It's a beautifully heartbreaking story of family love put to the test. The acting and direction are extraordinary as the filmmaker and his collaborators take big risks in how they express the simmering emotions of their characters.

Waves screened at the 2019 Vancouver International Film Festival as part of the Panorama stream at The Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts.

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