Senses of Cinema says,
The Last Wave is significant as a major film of the 1970s Australian film renaissance, a critically well-received film from a leading director of that period, and also, a marker film in the career of David Gulpilil. At 24, he had been acting in Australian film and television for six years since his debut in Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout (1971 UK/Australia). The Last Wave was a key film in a journey that was to become both his life’s work, and his most important contribution to Australian cinema: to engage in a dialogue with Australian auteurs, audiences and Indigenous people to communicate Aboriginal identity, culture, values and history.The New York Times has a mixed review, calling it "a movingly moody shock-film, composed entirely of the kind of variations on mundane behavior and events that are most scary and disorienting because they so closely parallel the normal." The Guardian says it "has an unsettling surreal energy that seems to exist entirely in that moment, where something as ordinary as the weather becomes an instrument of terror and suspense." Tabula Rasa writes, "There is dreamlike quality to this film, and as said, the viewer has to do some work. It may not be to everyone's taste. But for me this is one of the best demonstrations that Australia can be haunted and haunting."