The indication of a remarkable documentary is that its emotional impact isn’t diminished by knowing how the harrowing episode played out in real life. In fact, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s latest documentary about survival and hope where there seems to be none should be held as the finest example of catering depth and insight into a story known the world round.
In 2018, 12 young boys and their twenty-five year old coach became trapped in a series of underground caves in Thailand when the monsoon rains arrived early. Their eventual discovery and salvation from the dogged efforts of thousands of people became news fodder for weeks on end, with the world watching and waiting as the event captured everyone’s innate fears of parental hand-wringing.
In The Rescue, Vasarhelyi and Chin focus on the team of amateur cave divers who graciously gave their talents and knowledge in ultimately saving the group through a unique method of skill and medical intervention.
Combining authentically staged re-enactments, news footage and personal handheld content by the divers themselves, The Rescue vaults through an exhaustive range of emotions as the individuals share their fears and personal recollections. From the cathartic discovery of the boys to the final third which hits like a hold-your-breath action film, everything is compiled so brilliantly that the Hollywood remake is assuredly already in the pipeline.
Filmmaker Chin- whose carved out a recent empire of vertigo inducing films like Free Solo (2018) and Meru (2015)- uses his undeniable talents to expose the murky dangers of underwater diving, but it’s the unfussy personalities of the divers themselves (namely John Volanthen, Rick Stanton, Richard Harris and the members of the Thai Navy SEAL team) that really drives the film’s impact. How they managed to hold it together under such stressful circumstances is a marvel. Their skills are exhilarating, but their ability to push their fears behind their task is even greater. Their quiet moments of reflection, captured by Vasarhelyi’s steady gaze, punctuate the gravity they feel now.
If there’s one complaint to level against the film, it’s the short shrift given to the boys and their families. Very little is revealed about them. The Rescue is certainly aptly titled and rooted in the savior aspect, designed for maximum attention. Perhaps there’s another film about their second chance at life in the ether and how the local superstitions may play into that. I’d be glad to watch that as well. For now, The Rescue serves its purpose in galvanizing a select few who sacrificed themselves when all hope seemed lost.
The Rescue opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday October 15th.