The Last Wave (1977)

Director Peter Weir
Writers Peter Weir, Tony Morphett, Petru Popesuc
Starring Richard Chamberlain, Olivia Hamnett, David Gulpilil, Nandjiwarra Amagula
Genre Curse
Tagline Hasn't the weather been strange...could it be a warning?

Talk us through it

Just recently the weather has been unusual for Australia. Considering we're talking the driest continent on earth, huge hail stones falling from a cloudless sky and Sydney sinking under a deluge of unseasonal rain probably isn't a good sign.

After a late night altercation on the mean streets of Sydney a group of Koori men stand accused of killing another aboriginal. David Burton, a corporate tax lawyer, is strangely called in via legal aid to defend the men in what is viewed as an open and shut case. As Burton digs deeper into the background of the case he unearths the unexpected including a prophecy about the imminent demise of Australia's largest city. Can he prevent what is prophesized to happen, interpret his dreams, or is major urban renewal on the agenda?

Ready to check into the dreamtime?


"We've lost our dreams. Then they come back and we don't know what they mean." - David

Peter Weir's classic of Australia horror follows the same sort of path that his previous movie Picnic At Hanging Rock ventured down. Neither movie really serves up a concise conclusion, both deal with the unease the descendants of the first white settlers view the ancient land they find themselves in, and both movies center around a specific colour palette. Where Hanging Rock concerned itself with the outback and the transposed English middle classes, Final Wave moves things to downtown Sydney and the middle class professional world trying to come to terms with the indigenous population. Both movies present the feeling of the Australian environment eating new arrivals in a sort of mystical dream like landscape.

Weir opens Last Wave with an outback school existing under a scorching Australian sun. Ominously thunder roles across the desert but the skies are clear. The normal assortment of outback kids are playing in the school yard as heavy rain comes out of the blue drenching them. Their teacher calls them in, which works out just as well as one hell of a hail storm rolls in to devastating effect. Weir gets out his blue filter and adds a surreal quality to the opening scene somehow making things mythical in the process.

Get ready for the use of a lot of blue filters, Weir overindulges taking the reality he is possibly striving for out of the equation, and water is a constantly recurrent motif that is perhaps used in a clumsy Rob Zombie kind of fashion. Why anyone would be using a sprinkle during unseasonal rain showers remains a complete mystery.

The movie explodes into action in the first scene, an iconic moment for Australian cinema, but then sort of drops down a gear for the majority of its running time before revving up for the final exposition of the mystery that has been gradually built through the middle section. While on occasion beautifully shoot the movie is uneven in its pacing and is likely to disappoint modern audiences used to more carefully considered film construction. I guess this does date the movie as much as the grainy stock that was used.

Detracting from the movie further are some weighty themes that take precedence over any thoughts of, oh I don't know, action or total audience involvement. We have the clash of traditional Koori belief with the legal requirements of modern white society, a tribe living under the radar in Sydney (crucial in the legal ramifications), and some pretty strange mythology being thrown down. While Weir might have wanted to bring in tribal Actors to give authenticity to his movie he doesn't bring the same sort of cultural awareness to the actual plot. Notably anyone presented as having any sort of power within the Australian landscape is invariably white and Anglo-Saxon while the downtrodden are either Kooris or other ethnic groups. There's a sort of reverse discrimination going down that plays out as subtly as a James Cameron epic. Once again we have the absurd idea that native cultures by their very nature are more in tuned with the mystical than their white counterparts. This is the sort of lazy script writing that has a tendency to lose me rather than pushing me toward being a firm fan.

"I'm a fourth-generation Australian. And I have never met an Aboriginal before." - Annie

Where Weir does score however is in his dream sequences that turn out to be far more shocking than the "real" events that were being shown. The Director has a handle on the use of light and darkness to bring out the best in his shock sequences but seems incapable of utilizing the same effect for the everyday surrounds. Not entirely sure why this is the case but Weir seems to lose track of what genre he's in during the daytime. The whole kooky owl thing didn't exactly work for me either, but hey let's not get into the miniature here.

Richard Chamberlain (David Burton) is ideally suited to his role and is totally believable as the corporate Lawyer dragged into his own nightmares. Unfortunately the role didn't go to an Australian Actor but guess we can't have everything and Chamberlain is notable for his Aussie roles. Olivia Hamnett (Annie) doesn't have much to do besides play a North Shore Matron and is completely misused in this film. David Gulpilil (Chris) isn't pulled out of his safety zone but can brood with the best of them when called upon. And Nandjiwarra Amagula (Charlie) is solid as the Koori elder forced into action by his tribal customs that have no place in the modern confines of white society.

Charles Wain drops one hell of a score on us that is both distinctive and totally in tune with Weir's visuals. There's a mix of almost early Pink Floyd and traditional Koori didgeridoo that is intoxicating in its richness.

Summary Execution

Peter Weir drops another overly indulgent and over hyped thriller on us that doesn't live up to the top shelf its place on by Aussie movie buffs. The movie is almost clumsy in its execution and drops the ball completely on the few special effects in use. I've watched it twice for the purpose of this review and on neither occasion thought it hit the ball out of the park. On the second viewing I had limited expectations and the movie still managed to underplay its hand. Maybe if Weir had of simply treated his Audience with slightly more respect I would have been more on board than I was.

Unfortunately for anyone wishing to view The Last Wave you are going to have to import the region one Citation release as naturally there hasn't been one released for Down Under. I'm not entirely sure what the buzz with Citation horror releases are as besides an interview with the Director I wasn't overwhelmed by the extras. Guess I'm missing something there that North American fans might be able to point out, hey write on in and let me know what that something might be kids.

I'm not going to beat around the bush here, I have always viewed Peter Weir's early Australian movies as completely over rated due to some banal themes being presented and The Final Wave is no exception. There are some iconic moments but the movie itself is pieced together in a not entirely satisfactory fashion. I would miss this wave and pick up on the next one.

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

Not exactly up to the exhalted claims being made about it.