Simply put, 2015 Norwegian import The Wave is the best disaster movie in recent years. Not only does it deliver on the spectacle such movies require, it’s also full of strong characters, legitimate emotional stakes, and deep investment. It also landed director Roar Uthaug the gig helming the latest Tomb Raider iteration. And all of this for a roughly $6 million price tag.
While it doesn’t break any new ground, the sequel, The Quake, picks up the mantle and does what it does exceptionally well, offering grounded thrills and the emotional substance most blockbusters of this ilk lack. Sure, it may be more of the same, but when the same is this good, you can certainly let it slide and enjoy a wild ride.
A year after the catastrophic events of the first film, geologist Kristian Eikjord (Kristoffer Joner) has become a bit of a celebrity thanks to his heroic actions and all the lives he saves. He is, however, haunted by the ones he didn’t save, dealing with lingering PTSD and paranoia, which has taken its toll on his family life. As he uncovers warning signs that Oslo teeters on the brink of a long overdue earthquake, he struggles to make people listen as they rush towards the inevitable. And when disaster ultimately strikes, he must scour the city to save his family.
So yes, plot wise, The Quake is basically San Andreas if San Andreas was good (and I’m someone who enjoys San Andreas). But new director John Andreas Andersen, best known as cinematographer for the likes of King of Devil’s Island and Headhunters, replaces empty spectacle with tension and engagement. It’s dangerous and exciting, but also takes the time to set up the characters, their arcs, and make audiences care.
And that isn’t to say that The Quake skimps on the action or destruction, not at all. As the titular event rips through Oslo, it’s every bit as harrowing as any massive Hollywood tentpole. The film strikes a balance between the big and small, one that makes the menace and peril that much more harrowing and impactful. Investing in the characters just ups the pressure to near unbearable levels. It’s a damn roller coaster of a film that will make your stomach drop as Kristian and his daughter dangle from the lip of a decimated skyscraper.
The cost of this movie may be but a fraction of similarly themed American fare, but it never for a second plays small or constrained because of that fact. If anything, The Quake looks better and more realistic than its more bombastic counterparts. There’s a gritty authenticity and none of the gaudy, look-at-me cartoonishness. Even Joner's everyman, frantic and panicked but still compelled into action, sells the grounded, naturalistic aesthetic.
In short, if you like The Wave as much as I do—which is quite a bit—you will likely find much to love in The Quake, though that’s not a prerequisite. It’s tense and thrilling, epic and terrifying, and delivers spectacle level action and deeply personal stakes. Perhaps not quite to the level of its predecessor, this is still one of the best disaster movies you’ll find anywhere. It’s especially distressing for those of us living in Seattle, where the “Big One” has long been a looming specter. [Grade: B+]