The Norwegian fjord Geiranger sits below a massive mountain pass that will inevitably fall into the water below and create a massive wave. Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) is one of the people who monitor activity on the mountain in order to sound the alarm if a rockslide occurs. It’s his last day at work before he and his family move to the city for his new job but he has a bad feeling about some odd readings from the mountain. Unable to shake the feeling, Kristian delays leaving town and finds himself fighting for his life and the lives of his family when the mountain collapses.

Epic disaster films are nothing new for North American audiences, but The Wave manages to bring intense emotion to the events, which is something typically lacking from disaster films. The destructive power of the wave isn’t the highlight of the film. It’s the preceding events and the tense aftermath that drive the story. Rarely will audiences connect so strongly with the characters who have to face whatever natural event throws their lives into turmoil.

The performances play a huge role in this, with Joner leading the way as father Kristian. Ane Dahl Torp plays his wife Idun, with Jonas Hoff Oftebro as son Sondre and Edith Haagenrud-Sande as daughter Julia. The family feels so real that you are immediately hoping they’ll all survive until the end. Nothing is played over the top like we’re used to seeing. The family isn’t perfect but it’s never unrealistic and you can tell just how much they truly love each other. When Kristian and Julia stay home while Idun and Sondre stay at the hotel where Idun works, separating the family for the landslide we know is coming, the tension of who will survive starts to rise.

When the wave finally hits, it’s an impressive moment of CG destruction, but it also falls in line with the realistic take the rest of The Wave has set up. It’s not the earth-shaking, all-consuming destruction you would expect a film to offer. In the blink of an eye it’s over, leaving us to watch as Kristian desperately tries to get to the hotel to look for Idun and Sondre. By that point your emotions will have been dragged through the fire and things don’t lighten up.

The tension is immense and moments of relief result in tears of joy before viewers are thrust into the next moment of uncertainty. It’s a roller coaster ride of emotions through a beautifully shot and acted film.