Much like the phenomenon it takes its name from, Trey Edward Shults’ latest movie Waves feels as much about what you see as what you can hear. From the sound design down to the soundtrack featuring Frank Ocean, Kanye West and SZA, the A24 drama perfectly evokes the overwhelming emotional highs and lows that you’d expect of a teenage-centric narrative, but from a distinctly modern American perspective. Together, it leaves behind an essence of nostalgia for those emotional, coastal nights – even for those of us who have never experienced them.
The movie is split across two sequential storylines that are nonetheless bonded together. At the heart of the film is Tyler, a troubled high school wrestler, and his sister Emily, a much calmer force, who each grapple with isolation, relationships, and the freedoms and constraints of growing up. Throughout this is an intense examination of family – what it means, how much it matters, the ugly truths and beautiful moments, a testament to Shults’ ability to weave profound questions into the traditional coming-of-age format.
It’s the latest in a brief string of movie releases that, at only 31 years of age, has earned Shults a dedicated following. His feature length directorial debut Krisha about an alcoholic woman repairing family relations won the Grand Jury prize in 2015 at SXSW, the annual conference and festival held in his native Texas (Shults was born in Montgomery). Here, too, he looked to family for creative inspiration, not only peeling back the lid on its complexities, but also involving his own family in the cast.
With Waves out now in UK cinemas, we spoke to Shults about his childhood, the biggest influences on his career, and the hardest part of the filmmaking process.