In Waves, Trey Edward Shults portrays a 21st Century African-American family in an intense and redeeming narrative that explores masculinity, family, and isolation. Formed of two parts that oppose each other in style, pacing and themes; the first, a sensory overload, is oddly-paced and overbearing, whilst the second seems to let out a breath and slow down, letting a more natural experience develop.
Waves follows the story of Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) through his final year at high school, living under the pressures of his father to succeed in all facets of life, be it wrestling, school and helping out with his family’s business. Suffocating under both his family and his girlfriend (Euphoria’s Alexa Demie), Tyler reaches a breaking point, turning to drugs and alcohol. This story forms the first part of the film, and it is here that we are presented with an influx of emotions and stylistic choices. In parts, the cinematography and editing choices seem to edge into the art cinema genre, offering a perspective of a rather mainstream plot that audiences have not been majorly exposed to. However, it seems to never fully land, appearing confused and disjointed more than anything.
The second part of the film is a lot more self-assured, following a deeper and more visceral insight into the notion of family and isolation. It is visually stunning with a much slower pace, which settles smoothly in direct contrast to its previous half. The aspect ratio switches five times throughout Waves, each according to the atmosphere of the scenes, and it is this switch that is most noticeable. Attention to nature, alongside the delicacy of issues, performed beautifully, creates a softness that undoubtedly trumps the first half.
Shults presents a conflict in Waves in many instances, and it works to a degree. Arguably, the length and predictability of the first half, in some ways, nullify the impact of the second. However, he offers the before and after, which is not always present in mainstream cinema.
Words by Holly Stimpson