It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"The 5th Wave," from the get-go, has difficulty establishing tone and mood. Teenager Cassie Sullivan (Chloë Grace Moretz), clutching an automatic weapon, has a standoff in an abandoned mini mart with a wounded soldier begging for his life. Close-ups of Moretz's terrified face predominate throughout. Cassie's voiceover then kicks in, informing us that before all this, she was a "normal" teenage girl. Those words are a betrayal of the character Rick Yancey created in his popular YA series. There's nothing "normal" about Cassie in the book, but onscreen, Moretz hasn't been given a character she can sink her teeth into. Cassie onscreen never comes to life, and without Cassie, the film doesn't come to life either. Even the most primal scenes (mass executions, family reunions, goodbyes), are ho-hum.
Cassie lives with her parents (Ron Livingston and Maggie Siff) and her little brother Sam (Zackary Arthur). Her "normal" life disappears when a mysterious object appears in the sky over earth. Then come the different "waves" of attack from the aliens referred to as "The Others." The first wave is an electromagnetic pulse that kills the power across the globe. Airplanes fall from the sky. The second wave is a series of tsunamis that wipe out coastal areas. The third wave is a plague that kills millions more. The fourth wave involves snipers who stalk and kill the survivors of the other waves. And the fifth wave, unknown, is imminent.
Cassie's mother dies in the plague. The rest of the family trek to a makeshift refugee camp in the woods (where everyone is armed to the teeth). One day, Army tanks show up (the military is immune to the power outage, a fact never explained), and the intimidating Colonel Vosch (Liev Schreiber) carts the children off in school busses to an undisclosed location, promising the panicked adults that they will soon follow. Vosch, at first a savior who takes charge, has more up his sleeve, and Cassie is left to flee through the woods, clutching her little brother's beloved teddy bear.
The narrative splits between Cassie's journey and the journey of her high school crush Ben Parish (Nick Robinson, believable as a boy who has been completely traumatized). Cassie, determined to find her brother, camps in the woods, is shot in the leg by a sniper, and then rescued by a farm-boy named Evan Walker (Alex Roe). Evan is caring but mysterious. He also has blazing baby-blues and rock-hard abs. What would have happened if Cassie had been rescued by a guy who looked like Wilford Brimley? (In the book, the Evan Walker section is extremely strange and suspenseful. Here, it takes on an embarrassing "Blue Lagoon"-ish quality - especially when she peeks longingly at his sculpted torso while he bathes in a river.)