de facto film reviews 3.5 stars

In 2018, news that a Thailand soccer team consisting of 12 adolescent boys and their coach were trapped in a flooded cave was heard worldwide. Day after day, updates would be made about the well-being of these boys, with people still tuning in to learn of the outcome of the lives of the 13 individuals. More than 2 weeks would pass until the long and grueling rescue mission would come to an end, and every individual trapped would finally be rescued. This tight rope of a mission was headed by Thailand’s Royal Navy Seals along with the help of 2 British amateur expert cave divers, John Volanthen and Rick Stanton. These two divers would become a pivotal role in finding these 13 individuals that most already assumed were dead. It’s an incredible journey that consists of bravery and courage, where hope and determination are needed most to accomplish this giant feat. 

The Rescue, a documentary directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, takes the events of 2018 and adds a level of depth that many were unaware of at the time. Chin and Vasarhelyi, who are seasoned documentarians, take a famous story and attempt to create a tension-filled documentary that focuses primarily on the British rescuers and the exhausting mission they had ahead of them. The two directors have made a name for themselves after their 2018 award-winning documentary, Free Solo, which concentrated on Alex Honnold who would attempt to free solo climb his most dangerous climb yet. And after their success, the married directors, Chin and Vasarhelyi, were now on the hunt to find another story worth capturing.

The Rescue, from Free Solo Filmmakers, Sets October Release

This enthralling documentary builds upon a story that many are aware of, re-enacting a series of events in a seamless manner, almost indistinguishable from live footage caught during the actual rescue. Even while knowing the outcome of the soccer team, The Rescue is somehow able to create unstoppable tension by accurately conveying the intense claustrophobia one would feel traversing through murky waters. It’s mesmerizing to listen to the detailed stories from Volanthen and Stanton who were never intended to help in the first place. And with the immense talent from editor Bob Eisenhardt, clips and dialogue are transitioned impressively smooth throughout the documentary. And although the pacing of the almost 2-hour film is somewhat flawed in a few areas, it does not, however, feel as if it’s restraining much information or deterring from the gripping focal point. 

Chin and Vasarhelyi adequately construct an engaging narrative that can be easily followed and with the help of talking heads from the main crew of divers, accurate recounts of information can be made with thorough explanations. And though talking heads are known to be overused and can result in mundane explanations, The Rescue walks the line perfectly, adding interesting anecdotes that provide an influx of context and material audiences may need to help connect with the rescuers involved in the extraction. However, although accounts of Volanthen and Stanton were extensive, the documentary seemed to stray away from the many other individuals who played a major role in the rescue. Locals who sacrificed their time and money, along with those who traveled across the world to help are mostly never given a proper moment to recount their experiences or recollection of events. It’s information that would be appreciated and relevant, and yet, even the parents of the trapped children are barely featured in the documentary which would have evoked necessary emotion. 

The Rescue Trailer: NatGeo's Thailand Cave Rescue Documentary | IndieWire

Chin and Vasarhelyi focus almost entirely on this small group of divers, and although these divers play a pivotal role and their experiences are more relevant than some, it is important to at least feature the locals who paved the way. Nevertheless, the story remains inspiring and those involved deserve the gratitude and title others received for their acts of kindness and bravery. And with such an emotionally draining story, the documentary never force-feeds the story at any point, it instead lets the events flow for themselves so that audiences may be granted a more firm grasp of the situation. The tense moments feel true and genuine, and at no point does it feel like an overdramatic portrayal of said events, making way for natural human fear to set in. The use of the dangerous environment divers had to traverse through translated quite well, conveying the claustrophobic and almost blind surroundings the rescuers had to constantly endure. There are times when the film is explaining the void and immense peace cave divers perceive, and the excellent sound mixing constructs an immersive environment by completely nulling sound and leaving the audience with only their heartbeats to listen to. In a brilliant fashion, The Rescue permits those watching to comprehend a sliver of what is felt while cave diving. 

Overall, The Rescue provides a superb amount of research and information, expanding on the worldwide event. The detailed telling’s of individuals’ mentality throughout the rescue mission add a sense of depth and connection towards those who risked their lives. Chin and Vasarhelyi accomplish their goal by depicting the emotional stress many shared during the long two weeks, delivering well-made re-enactments. It’s a gripping tale many will find transfixing and claustrophobic at times, but also inspiring at the same time.