The Burning Sea is the next in a line of disaster films from the filmmakers behind Norwegian disaster movies The Wave and The Quake. Broadly, they aspire to tell more realistic disaster movies with a focus on the human scale consequences of an ecological tragedy. The Burning Sea deals with the human created consequences of off-shore oil drilling. The long form over-harvest of oil resources has tapped into old instabilities in the continental plates dating back to the ice age. This environmental damage causes oil to leak into the ocean in massive quantities. The risk, naturally, becomes the chance of a “burning sea.”
I’m loathe to compare this film to something like Moonfall, but it’s in the comparison where the quality of The Burning Sea becomes most apparent. I’m certainly not against “fun” in my disaster movies – I quite adore Armageddon! – but the filmmakers in The Burning Sea are committed to developing an actual attachment to the human characters before the chaos begins. A Moonfall serves up lazy character archetypes while The Burning Sea spends time watching our characters banter, flirt, and fuck. They feel three dimensional in a way big ticket American disaster movies seem to have abandoned.
Kristine Kuajth Thorp (Ninjababy) is our protagonist, a submersible drone pilot named Sofia. When an oil rig collapses in the film’s early moments, she is called in to help investigate the structural failure. Thorp is a charming, expressive performer who brings steely reserve beneath a lighter exterior. When the film’s action propels her into more of an action heroine role in the last act, Thorp admirably rises to the occasion.
The film’s action is specific and grounded. Not that there’s anything wrong with a moon crashing into the Earth as disaster content goes, but there’s not one moment in Moonfall that feels real. Despite having less than 10% the budget, the action beats in The Burning Sea feel largely real. When oil rigs collapse they have a heft and gravity. By focusing the perspective of the bigger action beats on the characters, we experience the chaos as they do. It helps make the environmental chaos feel more specific and consequential.
It’s compelling to see earnest debate of environmental issues and triggers that form much of the tension at the heart of the film. It’s not sneering villainy that leads to tragedy here, but people confronted with bad situations that have existed for decades. They’re left with a litany of bad options to parse in confronting potential catastrophe. The message here is clear – humans are destroying the environment – but the filmmakers seem committed to finding humanity in even the least relatable characters. It’s this commitment to human scale conflict that makes The Burning Sea the best disaster movie of 2022 so far.
The Burning Sea will be released in select theaters on digital streaming platforms on February 25, 2022.