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The Hollywood Reporter
Technically, it wouldn't be wrong to call Waves a "teen drama," but that generic label doesn't begin to convey the emotional scope of this tender, bruising, exuberant film.
Propelled by color, energy, electronic music and a quartet of career-making performances, here is that rare sort of cinematic achievement that innovates at every turn, while teaching audiences how to make intuitive sense of the way it pushes the medium.
Shults ... wrote, directed and co-edited Waves with urgency and a pulsating life force. His camera expresses the internal worlds of its subjects with such intimacy you almost forget it’s even there — until you are hit with yet another glorious, breathtaking shot.
Waves is unexpectedly ambitious and confident, the work of a filmmaker in complete control of his talents and using them to challenge himself. This is a deeper and more profound film than your average character drama, a masterpiece that’s hard to walk away from without checking your own grievances and grief. The ripple effect continues.
While the movie risks smothering the heart of its drama in all the movement and noise, the sheer sensory overload often leads to astonishing bursts of emotional sophistication.
Waves shudders with ambition and nervy style; it never quite relaxes out of its harrowing first hour but the longer it stretches out, the more humane it feels.
Waves earns its grace-filled ending by asking us to live alongside a trial by fire. It sounds like hyperbole, but I mean it: You walk out with a weary, cleansed soul.
Sometimes Shults’ reach exceeds his grasp, resulting in a self-conscious epic that wants to hammer home its characters’ emotional wreckage. Nevertheless, Waves is also powerfully immersive, investing so passionately in these individuals that it’s hard not to do the same.
When Shults soars under this structure, he composes some brilliant moments. When he falters, it seems like the movie doesn’t know where to go or when to end (if it even wants to).
So there are two films here: one is frightening and poignant and the other tender but slight. The first one will haunt me even if the second will fade.
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