Jul 9, 2019

The Quake [12]

Dir: John Andreas Andersen
Three years after the events of The Wave, Kristian Eikjord (Kristoffer Joner) is still affected by the disaster. Separated from his wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp) and distant from his kids, he feels guilty about his warnings not being heeded sooner and thus saving more people, and he’s haunted by fears of fresh disasters. These fears become more present when an old friend dies while examining a tunnel in Oslo and Kristian finds an old letter from him, warning of the potential of a massive earthquake. When the quake comes, will Kristian be able to protect his family?

The Wave did pretty big things for the career of director Roar Uthaug, who followed it up by making his Hollywood debut with the Alicia Vikander starring Tomb Raider reboot. Perhaps disappointingly, it didn’t seem to do the same for the film’s star Kristoffer Joner (a small role, confined to a hospital bed, in Mission: Impossible - Fallout aside). On the other hand, maybe that’s not such a bad thing, because it’s unlikely that a film like The Quake, if made in Hollywood, would have offered him much opportunity to stretch his acting muscles. At 103 minutes, this is a relatively short film, but for over an hour the titular event lurks in the background. For this time, the film does the requisite build up, but what it concentrates on isn’t the charts and graphs but the already shaken man at the centre of the film. 

Kristoffer Joner is a great actor, and he brings his customary dedication and detail to this part, just as he did in the first film. This performance is about trauma; a man haunted by his previous efforts, even though they were genuinely heroic. It’s left him looking bedraggled, almost hollow at times, and even the slightest engagement has become a struggle (in one particularly well acted moment there’s a tiny register of appreciation for the breakfast his daughter Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande) has made him, just in his eyes, a second before he says that she should go home). This background is important because it makes the growing threat of the earthquake feel different. By spending real time and effort on the emotional fallout of the previous events, there is always a very credible feeling that Kristian may genuinely just be paranoid. Of course, we know that’s very unlikely to be true, but it’s a testament to Joner that a film that used the title The Quake in a purely psychological sense would be at least as compelling as this one proves.

There are sacrifices made in order to spend this kind of time on Kristian’s character, and sadly they impact mainly on the other characters. There is an emotional short hand with the established characters of Idun, Julia and Kristian and Idun’s son Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro, sidelined here to the point that you’d be forgiven for thinking the first draft forgot he ever existed) but Kathrine Thorborg Johansen’s Marit, the bereaved daughter of Kristian’s friend who first warned him of the quake, is fatally underdeveloped; little more than a plot device with a face. This is where the film’s running time bites. We understand Marit’s actions in the third act as standard disaster response, the way we’d all hope to behave in those circumstances. Kathrine Thorborg Johansen does what she can with what’s on the page, giving a decent performance, but some more scenes between her and Kristian, just to bond the characters a bit, would give us more investment in her in the last half hour. Ane Dahl Torp is also a little limited by what’s on the page, but there’s enough in her performance and the dynamic between her and Joner that we can read what’s happened between Kristian and Idun over the past couple of years without having it baldly laid out in dialogue, and we are very much invested in her fate and that of Julia, thanks to another solid performance from Edith Haagenrud-Sande.

The carnage does, of course, finally arrive and when it does it’s extremely well executed, with effects that rival any $200 million film for roughly $6 million. The scale is smaller of course, but the CG is strong and because it’s linked to physical effects, more credible than in many higher budget films. The major setpiece, in a collapsing tower block, is tense, well paced, and not easy viewing if you have vertigo. Director John Andreas Andersen steals a few things (notably a sequence from The Lost World: Jurassic Park), but he adds his own wrinkles to everything he co-opts. The only issue in this passage is that, once again, the film largely forgets about Sondre, which makes things feel a bit unbalanced.

If you’re going in wanting something like a San Andreas (which, for the record, would be no bad thing, that’s a fun movie), The Quake is going to disappoint. I appreciated the slow and thoughtful start and the way it allows a great actor like Joner room to dig into his character. It has its problems, even at its best it is riddled with cliche, short changes some of its characters and has an ending so abrupt that it’s barely an ending at all, rather than a hard stop. For all those issues though, this is a smarter and more entertaining film than most Hollywood efforts in the genre.

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