by Maria Rosemary
The 5th Wave is the latest in dystopian science fiction thrillers that originally began as a young adult book series. What sets it apart from its compatriots is the method by which society falls apart. Playing off today’s fears of disease, climate change and failing infrastructure in a way that is both relatable and chilling, the invading aliens responsible for the destruction come as a mere afterthought as the chaos and drama unfolds.
The story follows 16-year-old Cassie, played onscreen by Chloe Grace Moretz. Cassie is an “Every-girl” familiar to the audience right up until aliens invade Earth, softening up any resistance with the titular five waves of disasters. Originally seeking shelter in a supposed army-run refugee camp with her parents and brother, both of her parents die at the hands of the invaders and her little brother is bused off with the rest of the kids by the army for “care and protection.” The remainder and greater majority of the film follows Cassie on her journey to rescue her brother Sam. While on the run, she teams up with a mysterious young man named Evan and her former high school crush, Ben, all while learning no one is who they appear to be and no one can be trusted.
The “waves” are the standout material of the story, successfully tapping into current real-life insecurities making the film all the more relatable. The first wave, an electromagnetic pulse, wipes out all electronic devices – including airplanes in mid-air. With the current state of the United States electrical grid, this wave is not particularly far-fetched; especially considering the United States currently experiences more blackout minutes than all other developed nations – anywhere from 92 minutes per year in the Midwest to 214 minutes per year in the Northwest.
The second wave consists of gigantic metal beams being dropped onto fault lines, causing massive earthquakes and tsunamis. The rationale, besides the potential for impressive visuals, is that a large percentage of humanity lives near coastlines. With these waves, nearly a quarter of humanity is wiped out. This is not difficult to believe; those of us who have seen the damage and panic that earthquakes and floods are capable of causing need only imagine it on a worldwide scale.
The third wave plays on recent fears of diseases in the news. The plague released by the aliens is spread similarly to bird flu, via bird droppings, but is hemorrhagic in a similar way to Ebola. This gruesome disease spreads quickly to those who come into contact with it, wiping out the vast majority of the remaining chunk of humanity.
In the past few years, the public has become increasingly aware of how easy it is for a disease like bird flu or Ebola to be spread via international travel. The recent Ebola outbreak in Western Africa and the worldwide panic at the mere thought of coming into contact with a possibly infected person puts the fear of an actual worldwide outbreak into sharp focus.
In the fourth wave, the aliens take over the bodies of some of the surviving humans. Far from zombies, these intelligent and possessed humans take advantage of trust and manipulate others into walking willingly into their own death.
Fear of an enemy who looks like a friend is far from a new one. During the Cold War, Americans feared secret Communists and throughout history people in many cultures have suspected neighbors of being evil witches. Whether founded or unfounded, people have long feared that their enemies will find a way to disguise themselves and infiltrate into places where they can do the most damage.
Unfortunately, the film adaptation of The 5th Wave does not quite reach the depth of tension and fear of the novel. Chloe Grace Moretz does a fine job of carrying the film and the visuals are all suitably impressive. However, the novel manages to spend more time examining the consequences and nuances of the waves, where the film must keep moving. Additionally, many aspects from the novel have been cut or changed, character motivations are different and in one case, a character’s gender was changed from male to female. Most notably different is that the story is told linearly instead of through occasional flashbacks.
Despite these changes, strong performances and an action packed story-line leave The 5th Wave an entertaining film that holds its own among the season’s young adult offerings.