Somewhere at the intersection of society’s obsession with post-apocalyptic entertainment like The Walking Dead and young adult adaptations about teenage girls who save the world like The Hunger Games and Divergent, is where to find trash like The Fifth Wave, far and away one of the worst films of this young year, a manipulative, cloying mess that piles on cliché after cliché until it barely any trace of it exists.
Things might have looked good on paper; how else to explain landing Chloë Grace Moretz, who having just come from Olivier Assayas’ masterful Clouds Of Sils Maria, one of the best films from last year, perhaps had her eye on a franchise? The 5th Wave plays like episode one of a series I hope never finishes, a science-fiction story of aliens who visit Earth and begin to wreak havoc and destruction with a series of incidents, called waves by the United States military, in a bid to take over. After being orphaned, Cassie (Moretz) gets separated from her kid brother Sam, who is taken to a local training camp along with every other child, where they are told they are the future of society and the only hope to fight the aliens and win. While seeking out Sam she encounters a hunk who tries to help her, but is he really who he says he is? Or more importantly, will she fall in love with him before she finds out the truth?
It’s hard to believe this film was written by Susannah Grant (Erin Brokovich and Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind). They must have had some serious bills to pay, to attach their names to something so awful, and so condescending and insulting to audiences. The 5th Wave is unabashedly stultifying, to the extent that a more formal critical analysis simply could not improve upon the mere listing of certain events that transpire in the film, beginning in the first scene with Moretz killing someone who reaches into his jacket pocket to pull out a crucifix, upon which her voiceover questions how it ever got to the point where humanity was lost. And so the film’s cognitive dissonance is announced from the jump, as she asks him five times to stop reaching into his jacket, thus overdetermining her character as a hero, while still being able to proclaim the physical act of shooting him as sufficient grounds to throw her into such a metaphysical quandary. Nothing improves from that point, as not a single character behaves in a manner befitting such a cataclysmic event. Liev Schreiber shows up as a military colonel to deliver just enough illogical exposition to set-up the rest of the film, which finds children, ripped from their families and forced through a compressed time training regiment, wasting no time cracking jokes amongst themselves and engaging in the typically sexist Hollywood banter that is so prevalent in young adult fiction. And what YA film would be complete without the obligatory love story, this time coming a mere days after witnessing the brutal murder of her father. But don’t worry, the screenwriters make sure to include a few “I can take care of myself” protestations so she doesn’t look too selfish about it.
It’s hard to say what is worse about The 5th Wave, the poorly plotted and ignorant screenplay, or the fact that the filmmakers expect that it will get a pass from audiences. It lost me very early on, and I spent the rest of the time just growing more exhausted with each passing genre benchmark. The last time I felt this way about a film was the worthless adaptation of Stephanie Meyer’s novel The Host, another young adult story, which suggests a trend among the storytellers in this particular vein to take audiences for granted by shoehorning characters into these canned gender roles that ultimately only reinforce negative stereotypes. It’s terrible writing, and makes me long for more empowering films like last year’s Jupiter Ascending, a criminally under-seen gem that rejects defining characters by their sex organs. The 5th Wave is bottom-feeding cinema at its worst, and it should be avoided like the plague, lest you wish one of the offending waves would reach into the cinema and put an end to the misery-inducing flicker on the screen.
The Verdict: Pan