Julian dives into the third feature by Writer-Director Trey Edward Shults, now available on home video and digital
With his past two films Krisha and It Comes at Night, writer-director Trey Edward Shults has quickly established himself as a creative force whose love for exploring the connective tissue between families is matched only by his ambitious and equally chaotic shooting style. Both films examine the horrifying beauty of being in a dysfunctional family — whether it be at a particularly dramatic Thanksgiving celebration or deep in the forests of a plague-driven apocalypse.
Waves is Shults’ most expansive and ambitious film to date, trading the tight spaces of his other work with the brilliant and endlessly blue skies of Miami without sacrificing any of his trademark claustrophobia. The film follows the Williams family, a middle-class family defined by their increasingly tenuous success. Patriarch Ronald (Sterling K. Brown) is a devout, domineering man, driven to protect his family at all costs from the expectations forced upon them by society as a Black family in America. His wife, Catherine (Renée Elise Goldsberry), has taken over as a mother after Ronald’s wife passed away from an overdose. Their children, Tyler (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) and Emily (Taylor Russell) are going through their last years of high school, and the pressure has never been higher to succeed and begin their future.
But Tyler faces the most pressure of them all — he’s an elite wrestler on track for greatness, but is hiding a traumatic shoulder injury, as well as a budding pregnancy with his girlfriend, Alexis (Alexa Demie). Unable to quit due to his father’s exhausting ambitions for him and unable to reconcile his imploding relationship with Alexis, Tyler is pushed to a toxic breaking point — and afterwards, it will be up to his sister Emily to bear the brunt of Tyler’s actions…and hopefully find a way for her family to recover in the wake of immense tragedy.
Waves is a hell of a film to write a summary for. Shults’ experiences learning his craft on the sets of fellow Austinite Terrence Malick come to fruition here, as scenes dynamically flow from one to the next to paint a vibrant, relentlessly active portrait of a troubled family. Like Krisha and It Comes at Night, the film never leaves the orbit of the Williamses, even as the characters themselves may try to escape the confines of Shults’ voyeuristic frame. Unlike his past films, though, Waves is also defined by its experimental structure, which follows both Tyler and Emily’s stories in equal ebb and flow. As noted in the film’s supplemental features, Shults’ approach takes a dynamic, new approach to telling the story of a Black American family, refusing to let them be defined by stereotypes or the familiar mechanics of melodrama. Rather, Waves is a film that focuses wholly on the toxic expectations we may set upon each other with the best of intentions — and how those same intentions can be used to repair relationships after our consequences tear them asunder.
Waves is by far a showcase for Shults’ impressive talents as a writer-director, but it’s a film that lives and dies by its stellar ensemble cast. The whole of the Williams family — Harrison, Jr., Brown, Russell, and Goldsberry — feel like an authentic unit that would do anything for each other. Their dynamic feels like a mirror opposite of the Kims from 2019’s other sprawling family drama, Parasite. The Williamses also feel wholly defined by the expectations thrust upon them by their social standing; but where the Kims are able to unite in solidarity against the wealthy Parks to forge a better future, the Williamses find most of their dangers from within. It’s a film that shows just how valuable our relationships with our family are to us in the worst of ways as well as the best — and by showing the full spectrum of that dynamic does Shults create a formidable, searing family drama that lingers in the memory long after the film is over.
Lionsgate and A24 present Waves in a 1080p HD transfer with 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio. Much like A24’s past releases of Shults’ films, this is a stunning presentation rich in color and detail. Waves’ spectrum-spanning color palette is well-represented here, without any unintentional artifacting or blurring. The film’s changing aspect ratios are also preserved, formatting the film in 1.85:1 and pillar/letterboxing where appropriate.
Like the film’s visual style, Waves’ audio mix is fittingly chaotic, a frenzied blur of tense dialogue, layered overheard chatter, and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ throbbing base electronic score. On my sound system, each of Waves’ sound mix was blurred yet crucially distinct from one another, preserving the theatrical experience as best it can. It’s disappointing the film’s Atmos mix hasn’t been offered here — but has made the transfer to 5.1 well.
- Audio Commentary with Writer-Director Trey Edward Shults and Actor Kelvin Harrison, Jr..
- Creating Waves — The Truth in It All: A 14-minute making-of EPK featuring interviews with Shults and his cast.
- Post-Screening Q&A with Shults, Harrison, Jr., Sterling K. Brown, Alexa Demie, Taylor Russell, and Renée Elise Goldsberry. The Q&A is engaging for all cast members, and it’s nice to hear their reflections on the film’s production since they didn’t appear on the film’s commentary. Much is revealed about the improvisatory nature of the production, despite having a strict script — it’s fun to hear how Russell and Demie’s one scene together is not just improvised, but one that the actresses pitched to Shults after watching Persona together.
- Deleted Scenes: 13 minutes of extended or wholly cut character beats. This material is well-shot and fleshes out more of the film’s Tyler section — a scene with Harrison, Jr. breaking the news of his medical condition to his wrestling coach (Bill Wise) is effective. However, much of what’s been cut seems deservedly so.
Waves is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital courtesy of Lionsgate and A24.