Early passages of Peter Weir's [The Last Wave] suggest that he has successfully married the vigour of his first film, The Cars That Ate Paris, to the plastic and enigmatic qualities of its successor, Picnic at Hanging Rock…. [The] episodes of Billy Corman's death and Burton's subsequent involvement in the legal proceedings are economically dovetailed into the narrative, with Weir integrating the various strands of the plot through the persisting water imagery—the sprinkler playing on Burton's lawn as he discusses his nightmare with his stepfather, the dripping tap in the mortuary where Corman's body is examined. All the more disappointing, then, that Burton's attempts to elucidate the increasingly bizarre situation in which he finds himself fail to exert sufficient grip on any of the available levels, and the movie quickly slackens…. Nor does the film manage more than a superficial commentary on the situation of its Aborigines, perhaps because Chris and Charlie are presented only as totemistic presences…. The concluding sequences do regain momentum—editing and settings combine to impart a sense of desperation to the subterranean voyage of discovery—but their effect remains superficial, and the tidal wave registers not as the inexorable working-out of a fatal design but as just a gimmick to provide a shock ending. (pp. 66-7)
Tim Pulleine, "'The Last Wave'," in Monthly Film Bulletin (copyright © The British Film Institute, 1978), Vol. 45, No. 531, April, 1978, pp. 66-7.