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THE QUAKE (2018) review

December 20, 2018

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written by: John Kåre Raake and Harald Rosenløw-Eeg
produced by: Are Heidenstrom and Martin Sundland
directed by: John Andreas Andersen
rated: PG-13 (for intense sequences of peril and destruction, injury images, and brief strong language)
runtime: 106 min.
U.S. release date: September 21, 2018 (Fantastic Fest) & December 14, 2018 (limited theaters & avail. on Amazon, YouTube, Vudu and Google Play) 

 

I never would’ve thought that I’d be anticipating disaster movies, but that’s how I felt when I learned that the Norwegians behind 2015’s “The Wave” made a sequel. That movie surprised me in how it removed itself from the cliche trappings that similar big-budget American blockbusters often succumb to by focusing on realism and humanistic peril over stereotypical characters running to and from scenes of bombastic destruction. And now the same writers and producers from that stellar avalanche/tsunami thriller brings us “The Quake”, which finds new director John Andreas Andersen overseeing  another catastrophe in Norway. The result is yet another legitimate nail-biter, as this thriller recaptures all the uncanny characterization and intense calamity, making it that rare sequel that feels like an equal.

While “The Wave” was based on an actual incidents that occurred in Norway’s past, the movie was set in the near-future, indicating what transpires is something that could occur again. Considering the movie ended with a closing statement that told us the events we witnessed “are likely to occur in the future, but the exact date is a mystery”, it should come as no surprise that we’ve returned. “The Quake” is set three years to the date after the tsunami that killed 248 people in the tourist destination of Geiranger and when we catch up with the family we followed in “The Wave”, we’re reminded that grief and trauma can often fracture whatever way of life survivors attempt to maintain.

 

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Geologist Kristian Eikjord (Kristoffer Joner) is now divorced and separated from his wife, Idun (Ane Dahl Torp), and their two kids, older son, Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) and younger daughter, Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande), all of whom live in Oslo, while Kristian has stayed behind in Geiranger. When a former colleague is killed in a traffic tunnel collapse, in what the Norwegian Press calls a traffic accident, Kristian travels to Oslo to investigate, knowing in his gut something isn’t right. It doesn’t take long for Kristian to figure out that the death was caused by seismic movement, something he learns his friend was studying at length, determining the possibility of a massive earthquake striking Oslo.

With the help of his friend’s daughter, Marit (Kathrine Thorborg Johansen), Kristian learns that the city is about to be hit with the same size quake that destroyed the city 100 years ago. He desperately tries to warn the proper authorities and emphasize that the citizens must be alerted, but Johannes (Stig R. Amdam), a senior official at monitoring station Norsar doesn’t take Kristian’s warnings seriously. After that response, Kristian’s number one priority becomes finding his family, but when the massive earthquake hits the city, he suddenly finds himself in a collapsing skyscraper as tries his best to save them.

One of the reasons “The Wave” and “The Quake”, both standout as something refreshing in this genre is how at no point do the main characters we follow make overly stupid or rash decisions. Sure, some decisions are emotional, but bottom line the motivations behind the character’s action are understandable and justified, even if it finds them placed in situations where it will be impossible to come out alive. But the main these movies work is because screenwriters John Kåre Raake and Harald Rosenløw-Eeg prefer to focus on what’s happening with the humans we get to know, rather than the earth that’s crumbling under their feet. These are decisions that payoff immensely for the audience.

 

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“The Quake” opens with a close look at Kristian, who is a broken man after the harrowing events of “The Wave”. Nervous and paranoid, he remains isolated from his family and friends, traumatized by the life-changing event he survived. Although locals and colleagues acknowledge him as a hero for saving lives, he doesn’t see it. He can’t even handle having his daughter over to stay with him. His place is a mess and he has no food in anticipation of her visit, so he abruptly puts Julia on a ferry back to her mother. This sets up the fragile state of the protagonist, something rarely seen in American disaster movies – just think of the characters in “San Andreas” a movie that relied heavily on pure disaster porn instead of relatable characters in realistic situations.

It takes a while for Kristian, once again so excellently portrayed by Kristoffer Joner, to gather himself together and make his way to Oslo to warn officials and track down his family, so any viewer hoping for anything disastrous to occur right away will be disappointed. None of that matters, since Andersen is establishing who people are as he builds to the panic, knowing it’ll be worth the wait once viewers are invested in characters they’ve spent time getting to know.

In disaster movies, the antagonist is never natural catastrophes, but rather those in charge who could’ve either prevented the event from happening or at least done something to ensure less collateral damage. In “The Quake”, Kristian gets zero assistance from Johannes when he is presented with evidence of growing seismic activity in the city , which is why Kristian turns to Marit for help. However, all of this information is quite a shock to her, considering she had no idea her father had tapped into the potential for real disaster in a major metropolitan area. While all of this transpires, it becomes heartbreaking to see Kristian realize all that he’s missed over the years while remaining either obsessed or paralyzed by his geology research work…in his effort to ensure his family will have a future, he totally missed them in their present.

 

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When “The Quake” inevitably unleashes utter chaos, Andersen pulls out all the stops, creating an epic cinematic experience, thankfully without sacrificing characterization. When the earth starts to crack through Oslo and buildings are crumbling, there is no possibly way for Kristian to be everywhere he needs to be in order to gather up his family. Where Dwayne Johnson would commander a helicopter and pick up his estranged wife to go save their daughter, Joner’s Kristian desperately tries to determine what his next best move would be to bring him closer to his family. We see that his son is stuck in a university class, where the teacher thinks the tremors around them are simply a drill, but what becomes most nerve-wracking is the how four characters wind up in the same location, yet unable to help each other. At the top of a high-rise we find Julia and Marit, who wind up trapped as the building begins to fall over and then there’s Kristian and Idun who are in a nearby elevator shaft which becomes increasingly unstable. No amount of super heroics will be able to save everyone we care about, which makes the movie all the more real.

The visual effects that detail the danger and survival challenges that unfold at every turn in the movie’s third act are spot-on, immersing viewers in the absolutely intense mayhem. At no point is Anderson or anyone involved in “The Quake” looking to visualize a city leveled or ratchet up a body count. What matters here are the characters and the seriousness of their dire situations. It ultimately induces sweaty palms for viewers, who are sure to pick up on how the movie refrains from becoming a rehash of what came before it or languish in the type of American disaster movies we’re used to seeing. I don’t know what can come after this, but I’m certainly concerned with the state of Kristian’s psyche – the guy has been put through the ringer.

 

 

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RATING: ***

 

 

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