Starring: Jürgen Vogel, Frederick Lau, Max Riemelt
Director: Dennis Gansel
Running Time: 107 mins
The Wave (Die Welle) is a German film about a high school teacher who decides to teach his students about the real effects of dictatorships with a social experiment, however things go horribly wrong when the students become more and more passionate about their new community.
There are some premises that just seem too preposterous to ever really come off effectively, but that’s exactly what The Wave plays on so brilliantly. Unnerving to a terrifying degree, and showcasing the true power of nothing more than an idea, even one with absolutely no substance, it’s an engrossing and powerful film that really makes you think twice about everything you see and do, and whether you’re just part of some sort of wave.
That’s what works so well about this film, however, the fact that it builds and builds just like an ever strengthening and totally relentless wave. With a very strong pace that speeds up exponentially throughout, and an effective focus on the spread of this ideology in a largely neutral light, judging how normal people can be so heavily influenced when crowd mentality takes hold, it’s a truly fascinating watch that will have you on the edge of your seat.
From the start, the parallels with historical phenomena like the rise of the Nazis are immediately apparent (and occasionally a little too obvious and, come the final act a little too silly), but what makes the film so interesting and still relevant is that it comments on the spread of an ideology like wildfire in a way that can still be seen in countries all around the world, and it had me constantly thinking and reflecting throughout to understand when and where I myself have been a part of such a phenomenon, even without knowing it in the slightest.
As such, the film is very thought-provoking, and also particularly interesting for history and politics buffs, as it showcases such a fundamental and simple concept that has played such a huge role in the modern world.
What’s more, however, is just how terrifying it all is. The story and premise are unsettling enough, but when you watch it all unfold at breakneck speed, furthered by Dennis Gansel’s relentless directorial style, it genuinely feels like you’re being hit by a totally unstoppable wave, something that was electrifying and simultaneously horrifying to witness throughout.
Beyond that, the performances here are absolutely brilliant. While Gansel does a great job to set up the environment as a normal, real-world high school that anyone can relate to, the individual performances are the icing on the cake in that regard, bringing the terrifying nature of the story at hand all too close to home.
With the range of students portraying typical high school personalities that you will undoubtedly know, and the central performance by Jürgen Vogel as the teacher of the class, the way they show their completely innocent characters being so powerfully and overwhelmingly corrupted, only for them to end up going along with it themselves, is arguably the most terrifying feature of the entire film, and the final blow to make you believe that this sort of phenomenon isn’t an issue resigned to history, but something very powerful and very able to breed any time in the modern day.
Overall, I was hugely impressed by The Wave. Socially and politically sharp throughout, and featuring a fascinating and terrifying story, it’s an engrossing and powerful watch from start to finish. Although it could occasionally have been a little less blatant in some of its comparisons and statements, with excellent directing and performances, it’s a very satisfying and simultaneously unsettling watch, which is why I’m giving it a 7.7.
And then you realise this is based on a true story…