Watching Norwegian disaster movie The Quake, you get a niggling sense that something is missing. And then suddenly, it hits you: where’s Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson? Surely the screen-dominating former wrestling superstar has a monopoly on appearing in any film remotely tiptoeing into the disaster genre, doesn’t he? The interesting thing, however, is that John Andreas Andersen’s emotionally-focused film would benefit little from the inclusion of a box-office behemoth, as The Quake’s greatest strength is in the credibility of its characters and the realism of their fate. We like Mr. Johnson, but his exuberance is simply not needed here.
There is also the fact that San Andreas (2015), an earthquake-based vehicle for big Dwayne to ride in, is a bit rubbish. Yes, it has the effects that you would expect in a studio blockbuster, but lacks real heart. If you watch these films as a double bill (we did so you don’t have to), The Quake comes out on top in almost every way.
The story of an estranged husband and father is nothing new, but Andersen at least makes you feel the pain and difficulty in the enduring, awkward relationships. Much of what the characters are feeling is left unsaid, with no years-old family tragedy forcing the gaps. The bonds are there, tested but holding, and you understand the whys and the wherefores. This comes largely from the depth in the performances. Kristoffer Joner is impressive as the guilt-ridden geologist unable to convince his peers of the oncoming danger, but it is Ane Dahl Torp who shoulders much of the emotional burden. Her underplayed, often quiet performance is at times heartbreaking, occasionally fraught but never less than compelling. Throughout you feel her internal struggle as she tries to maintain a grasp on her family unit.
When the earthquake comes well into the second act, it hits with a greater impact because of what has gone before. You might expect that a lower budget disaster movie would shrink from challenging effects, but Andersen commits to enough to demonstrate the scale of the destruction. It is a credit to everyone involved that, while the earthquake is extremely well realised, you are drawn back to the personal drama occurring in the aftermath. Moments, or more appropriately minutes, of extreme tension are balanced against collapsing buildings and terrifying danger as The Quake moves toward a satisfying finale.
As a disaster movie, The Quake does everything you need and expect with considerably less fuss than many of its genre stablemates. Dramatic and considered, this is a film that should launch Andersen to an international audience as his thoughtful direction binds together a story that toys with predictable tropes but does so with genuine heart and sincerity.
THE QUAKE / CERT: PG13 (USA) / DIRECTOR: JOHN ANDREAS ANDERSEN / SCREENPLAY: JOHN KARE RAAKE, HARALD ROSENLOW-EEG / STARRING: KRISTOFFER JONER, ANE DAHL TORP, KATHERINE THORBORG JOHANSEN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW