High School Heartbreak

Trey Edward Shults in an American writer-director, who made his debut with 2015’s Krisha. He followed it two years later with the much-admired horror It Comes At Night, and now returns with Waves. A harrowing drama about an African-American family from South Florida navigating the aftermath of tragedy, it starts Kelvin Harrison Jr and Taylor Russell as brother and sister Tyler and Emily.

ASFF: What was the starting point for Waves?
It’s hard to say now because it’s been so long. Honestly, I think the starting point was being a kid and wanting to make a movie about kids and music and that was the jumping off point, but I had no idea what that was. Not long after that it turned into Tyler’s half of the movie and the tragedy. But that was never enough to me. What’s the point of the movie if that’s all it’s leading to? You can’t just end there. That’s what it was for a while. And then I had an epiphany [with] Emily taking over and that’s been a part of the DNA for at least the last five years.

ASFF: How would you describe the themes of the film?
TES: I think ultimately, it was how a tragedy affects a family and getting through the other side and feeling the dichotomies in life and love. Love can be very constructive and beautiful and it can be destructive as well. You can go through a lot of highs and lows, you can go through a lot of pain. But getting to the other side of that pain is so much more rewarding, having lived it. Getting through all of that and putting all those feelings into this was where my head was at.

ASFF: How did the music element of the film flow into the story?
I wrote the script with the music. That was way back when. The first initial thing with this movie was teens and a soundtrack movie. So the music was always so much a part of the DNA, and writing the script, the music was embedded in it. You could listen to it or not while you read, and ultimately I wanted it to feel honest to Tyler and Emily. I wanted it to function as a mix-tape in its own right, where if you listen to it in sequence with the movie it’s telling a story just like the movie is.

ASFF: In the film, Tyler’s wrestling injury leads him on a downward spiral. How does it affect him?
TES: It’s devastating. That’s the sad thing for me about Tyler’s journey. He doesn’t get the time to build himself back up again. All these events happen so quick together. Life can go off the rails very fast, in the experience I’ve seen sometimes. But for Tyler in the movie, it’s utterly devastating. I don’t think he always handles it in the right way, but he was raised to be the best and have utter control. He basically loses all that control.

ASFF: Talk about the title. What does it mean for you?
TES: For me it’s really thematic. The movie is highs and lows. It’s ebbs and flows, it’s good and bad, it’s everything in between. Hopefully it feels like we go through that spiritually in the movie and it just felt right.

Waves is in cinemas on 17 January. For more details, click here.

James Mottram

1. All stills courtesy of Premier Comms.