Justin Long should do more horror movies. His brand of schlubby, down-on-his-luck nerd lends itself incredibly well to situations of escalating tension and terror, all the way back to Jeepers Creepers which, although it bears the distinction of a trailer scarier than the finished product, kick-started a journey for the actor that’s mostly been diverted since (the exceptions being Tusk, Yoga Hosers, and Drag Me to Hell).
The Wave, the debut feature from Gille Klabin (he directed a documentary back in 2011, entitled 30 Day Feature Film Challenge: The Movie) from a script credited to Carl W. Lucas (who, it must be noted, has a tenuous personal connection to the story), offers Long the opportunity to do what he does best in a somewhat more psychedelic mold. It’s not a horror movie per se, but it’s horror adjacent, and that will suffice for the time being.
Long is Frank, a well-meaning lawyer on the cusp of a massive promotion that will also, unfortunately, doom some poor family to a life of destitution (this is the part Lucas has personal experience with, via a deceased cousin). His work buddy Jeff (played by Donald Faison with hair, something we haven’t seen since he was shaving his head to keep it real in Clueless) suggests a night on the town and the two head out looking for adventure.
After hooking up with a couple ladies in a bar, one of whom is played by A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night‘s Sheila Vand, in one of many ethereal weirdo roles she’s been gifted since that film broke her out, they end up at a rowdy party where Frank is offered a new party drug by a huge, hulking Scot in a fur coat (think Paul Hollywood, but even more intimidating). After being told only that it’s “gonna hit you…like a wave” (see what they did there?) the film smash cuts to the next morning, with Frank totally discombobulated.
The Wave is one of those regular-guy-having-a-really-bad-day style movies that only work if we care about the protagonist. Considering, in this case, it’s Justin Long, there’s no problem there. We’ll gladly hop on his back, as the freewheeling camera often does, and ride around Los Angeles getting gradually more confused as he does. The film is dynamically shot to be purposely discomfiting, both for Frank and us.
The idea of a drug’s effects never wearing off is a scary one and the onscreen representation is very well done here, particularly when it results in bizarre, dark visions or Vand’s character appears as an angelic-like figure. There’s much talk about chaos, and The Wave is quite a chaotic movie. There are moments when it flirts with Pulp Fiction-esque vibes, particularly in Frank’s interactions with a drug dealer, but this isn’t as cohesive a story as Tarantino’s purposely scattered mini-narratives.
Long is very good, as always, and his rapport with Faison is strong — in fact, The Wave would’ve benefited from even more of their double act (put them in another film together immediately, damn it!). Likewise, a blossoming pseudo-romance with Vand’s mystery lady isn’t overplayed, and both actors should be commended for making a close-up French kiss (to share the catalytic drug) not look gross for once.
Less effective is Frank’s nagging wife, a tiresome cliche at this point, whose harsh characterization is neither necessary nor justified. Long, as a performer, is schlubby and pathetic regardless — except in Zack and Miri Make a Porno, in which he plays a horny gay porn star to hilarious effect, clearly relishing being allowed to play outside his regular sandbox for once — so he doesn’t need to be further pushed down by an abusive spouse. Making wives the villains is so last decade, last century even, so it’s disappointing to see here.
How much you enjoy The Wave will depend on your tolerance for smash cuts, wild detours, and the dismantling of previously established rules of time travel. I’m not sure it all hangs together necessarily, but it’s a pleasurable enough watch, and Long is reliably likeable as always. Catch The Wave on VOD and theatrically on January 17, 2020
Wicked Rating: 6/10