Based on a real incident in the ’60s when an American classroom experiment to demonstrate the dangers of fascism spiralled out of control, Dennis Gansel’s knotty but punchy film transposes the idea to modern-day Germany.
Left-leaning Mr Venger ( Jürgen Vogel) attempts to illustrate how easy it would still be for an extreme autocracy to develop by introducing tighter rules into class, together with strict obedience to a leader – himself.
The pupils rise to the occasion, providing a name for their faction (‘The Wave’), and inventing a hand signal halfway between Nuremberg and Redondo Beach.
But it’s not long before they’re ostracising anyone who isn’t one of them – with only Karo ( Jennifer Ulrich) seeming to recognise the frightening
potential of what Mr Venger has unleashed.
Motoring things along at a confident clip, Gansel sweeps us up in the excitement of the movement, nailing – without hailing – fascism’s queasy allure.
Alas, some of the teen actors aren’t quite up to the job. Still, even if the tragic conclusion seems to stem less from the situation than from the
screenplay’s determination to prove a point, this is a chilling film that deserves to be seen.