Big Screen Berkeley: ‘The Quake’

Disaster looms in The Quake, opening at Landmark Shattuck Cinemas on Dec. 14

It’s been a while since I felt compelled to give a film a bad review. Though bad reviews are fun to write, I also regret penning them: I’d rather be drawing your attention to something worth seeing than warning you away from something that isn’t.

Sometimes, though, it can’t be avoided. This review is intended to save you the one hour, forty-eight minutes and nine seconds that you might otherwise invest in Skjelvet (The Quake), opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, Dec. 14).

Unless you’re a disaster movie obsessive, you can surely find a better use for your time.

Kristian Eikjord (Kristoffer Joner) is a Norwegian geologist who helped save hundreds during a rockslide several years ago, but he can’t get over the 248 lives lost in the disaster. Now living in self-imposed exile three hundred kilometers from Oslo, the tortured Kristian has separated from wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp) and is now a pill-popping, palsied mess fretting endlessly over his failure to save more people.


Even a visit from daughter Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande) can’t cheer him up, and his mood darkens further when a former colleague dies in a tunnel accident that may have been triggered by a minor temblor. Increasingly convinced that Oslo is about to be hit by an earthquake greater than the 5.4 that rocked the city in 1904, Kristian visits complacent former supervisor Johannes (Stig Amdan) who airily dismisses his concerns (“Norway is going to be fine!”). Can our hero alert the sheeple to impending disaster before it’s too late?

Oh, whoops, was a spoiler warning in order? Yes, there will be a quake in The Quake, but alas, it will be no more believable than any other movie earthquake you’ve ever seen – and for those of us who live in earthquake country, some of the film’s science will feel particularly sketchy.

This, of course, might be forgivable if The Quake’s characters were believable or likable, but unfortunately they’re neither. Kristian’s guilt complex and his room full of serial killer-style newspaper clippings are baffling at best, and his dismissal of Julia shortly after her arrival at his mountain fastness simply seems cruel. Worst of all, his third-act post-quake transformation from trembling baby-man to decisive commander-in-chief is both absurd and maddeningly sexist: all this geologist needs to restore his masculinity, apparently, are some women to save.

Featuring unimpressive, barely adequate CGI effects that might have passed as state of the art ten years ago and a score derived largely from Hans Zimmer’s obnoxious Inception cues, The Quake is little more than a pale Scandinavian imitation of a Hollywood epic.  To his minor credit, director John Andreas Andersen does try to work one unique wrinkle into his film: Kristian posits that Oslo is about to experience a ‘limnic eruption’ on par with the one that killed hundreds of Cameroonians in 1986.

In the end, though, The Quake is as generic as it sounds: buildings shake, characters are exposed to danger, and the underpants gnomes seemingly ride to the rescue at film’s end to save the characters we haven’t cared about since the film began one very long hour, forty eight minutes, and nine seconds earlier.