Norwegian disaster drama The Burning Sea is being promoted as a sequel to the recent catastrophe duo of The Wave and The Quake, cracking flicks that laid waste to, respectively, a sleepy fjord tourist village and *checks notes* Oslo.
The sequel label is somewhat misleading.
Yes, Sea is from screenwriter Harald Rosenløw-Eeg, who wrote both previous films. (His cowriter, Lars Gudmestad, is responsible for the brilliant satire Headhunters.) Yes, director John Andreas Andersen also helmed The Quake. But that’s the extent of the connections; the only continuing motif is thematic, and even that only tenuously. There are no returning characters. Couldn’t we at least have gotten a cameo from the dorky hero of the earlier flicks, Kristoffer Joner’s Cassandra-esque geologist Kristian Eikjord, raving about how the metaphorical beaches should be closed?
It would have worked: Sea is another geological calamity… and it’s an absolute doozy that ups the ante in the same way that Quake did on Wave. So — true — there’s that. Though also true is that I chugged along with this movie for a good long while thinking, Is that all it has? This isn’t very disastrous. Until it was. Dear god, was it ever.
Our hero – heroine, yay! — this time is Sofia (Kristine Kujath Thorp), who runs a little undersea-robotics company and is called in to help in the aftermath when a North Sea oil rig collapses and potential survivors in the watery wreckage must be found. This she achieves, nominally, though it doesn’t go very well. On the disaster-movie curve — and certainly compared with The Wave and The Quake — the stakes seem very low indeed. It’s all a bit… anticlimactic.
Even when, um, Reasons arise and government officials start saying things like “We have to secure and close down half the North Sea.” Because they actually start doing just that: no one denies the problem that has been revealed, and no one delays what must be done. It’s refreshing to see officialdom behaving in responsible ways, but it’s hardly the stuff of high drama.
Any narrative disappointments are forgiven, however, when the breadth of the eco-cataclysm that is in the offing is revealed. The typical movie-movie melodrama and rigmarole of Sofia racing off to rescue her partner, Stian (Henrik Bjelland), an oil-rig manager stuck out at sea after doing a Heroism, recedes into insignificance next to the horror of what The Burning Sea depicts. If, like me, you thought you already had a pretty good understanding of the scope of the devastation and ruination that our dependence on fossil fuels could bring, you will discover new realms of planetary existential nightmare here. I cannot recall the last time a movie’s ending has haunted me this much.