Entertainment

The 5th Wave review: Intriguing possibilities arise in teen survival tale

Chloe Grace Moretz plays spiky heroine Cassie Sullivan in J. Blakeson's <i>The 5th Wave</i>.
Chloe Grace Moretz plays spiky heroine Cassie Sullivan in J. Blakeson's The 5th WavePhoto: Supplied

★★★

J. Blakeson's​ The 5th Wave inevitably has some familiar elements: the "teens survive invasion/save the world" narrative, has become a regular fixture on the movie calendar. If it's not The Maze Runner, Tomorrow When The War Began or Ender's Game, then it's a dystopian variant on a story of struggle and survival: The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Giver, for example.

In virtually every case, a book or series of books provides the plot and drives the audience. So it is with The 5th Wave, adapted from a YA novel by Rick Yancey that was published in 2013: a sequel has appeared, and the final instalment is due out this year,

Cassie Sullivan (Chloe Grace Moretz​, who develops into a sceptical and spiky heroine, is the narrator, telling us how she went from a conventional high-schooler with a crush on the football star to a solitary, gun-toting survival warrior. The first scene, in which she is forced to make a distressing life-or-death decision, is both grim and surprising, a bleak encapsulation of what has happened and what's to come.

Flashbacks, narrated by Cassie, explain how it got to this: they are capably handled by Blakeson in a series of special effects set-pieces. It begins with the sight of an extra-terrestrial craft hovering overhead, a source of wonder and fear to the residents of Cassie's home town. It is, she tells us, the first of a series of "waves", stages of an extra-terrestrial invasion. An electro-magnetic pulse knocks out electricity and communications worldwide. 

There are catastrophic floods, followed by a plague. Then finally, a stage that leaves a small number of survivors in the care of camouflage-clad soldiers on a military base. Cassie's high-school crush, Ben Parish (Nick Robinson) is one of them but she is on her own, and knows nothing of this. Her primary objective is to try to find her little brother, Sam (Zackary Arthur), from whom she has become separated. A mysterious stranger, Evan (Alex Roe) saves her life, but she has difficulty trusting him.

At this point, the film opens out, as the focus moves from Cassie to Ben, and to a new group of teenagers struggling with expectations placed on them: they are being trained to become warriors against the invaders. Many viewers will undoubtedly realise what more is happening, well ahead of the characters, but that's not necessarily a flaw in the filmmaking – it's an indication of their vulnerability as much as anything else. There are some clunky or abruptly compressed revelations, and Evan's flashback story is dispatched far too quickly. Yet the situation that develops, in the final stage of the film, in which a group of teenagers are forced to begin to trust each other, to find a way forward, is an intriguing one. It's not so much a cliffhanger, more a set of possibilities that are about human nature rather than science fiction scenarios.