The Last Wave (1977) (PG)

There is absolutely no reason for "The Last Wave" to work. It is a jumbled mess, a horrid tale of apocalyptic times told in such an overly dramatic and completely impossible way that it just comes across as idiotic...yet the movie is evocative, thrilling, and completely engrossing. It is the narrative form of what the process of making "Jaws" was.
Peter Weir may have played with the idea of the unexplained with "Picnic at Hanging Rock"; but here he throws the curtains wide open and shows us just how melancholic and suspenseful the unknown can be. Using Richard Chamberlain as his main actor, Weir presents many dichotomies throughout "The Last Wave".
A disaster movie like none you've ever seen, "The Last Wave" is based in Weir's native Australia. The movie begins with a stunning sequence of a storm raging into a small town. Thunder rolls across an arid plane, but no rain clouds can be seen. Then rain starts cascading from the heavens and huge chunks of hail start breaking through the windows.
We cut to David Burton (Richard Chamberlain) leaving his office and returning home. He is traveling through the heavy rains and has to wait in traffic while everything clears up. When he gets home, he is adorably ambushed by one of his daughters and the family gathers around the dinner table for their meal. The rain keeps coming down outside and water starts pouring down the steps of David's house. The water from the bathtub has been left on and has now flooded a great deal of the house.
In the meantime, a young man runs through the sewers with a bundle in his hands. He seems to be escaping from someone; yet we don't know who. Leaving the tunnels, he makes it to the clear air and goes to a bar, where a few men hunt him down. He is leaving when they not-so-cutely ambush him.
He evades them for a while before being confronted by an old man in a car who points a stick at him and he falls down dead.
The coroner rules that he drowned, even though there was not that much water in his lungs. David is a tax lawyer and has no experience in the courtroom; but his name was mentioned because he supposedly has dealings with the aboriginal people before. Untrue as it was, David now finds himself pressured into helping out with this case; but the five men involved will not speak about what happened that night, they only proclaim their innocence in the matter.
Dreams come. David's nights become filled with enigmatic and haunting dreams of mysterious figures creeping into his house. The watery imagery and the predator in the house theme makes me think of "A Nightmare on Elm Street" though this came seven years before and is much scarier than Wes Craven's film.
The suspense is one thing; but the poetry plus the suspense is another. I don't think "The Last Wave" ever lets you go, though it does have its dull moments. The unbearably confusing plot is what keeps you hooked and it's films like this that surely inspired some of the more creative moments to follow, chiefly Paul Thomas Anderson's "Magnolia" comes to mind for obvious reasons.
Surrender is key to the movie. You cannot be thinking about how ridiculous everything is, because that will only make you angry. Instead, consider the beauty of the movie, captured by Russell Boyd. Consider the stellar acting, and consider the story itself. Is it that much more ridiculous than "The Exorcist"?
"The Last Wave" is a movie that exists completely in of itself. It makes no pretenses nor does it self-refernce how odd it might seem.
It's a glorious movie, one that you should try to get your hands on.
For as gloomy as the movie might seem, with the constant doom hanging over everyone's head, it is entertaining beyond reason.
Absorbing and wonderful, "The Last Wave" makes you want to re-watch it the second that it's over.

Score: ★★★★

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