DXIFF 2021 Review: The Rescue

Written by Taylor Baker


Oscar Winning Directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi follow up their harrowing Oscar Winning documentary Free Solo with a film about the extraction mission conducted by Thai Seals and Divers in Thailand to save a youth soccer team that was trapped in the cave. The film is composed primarily of historical reenactment footage, with event footage captured by the many cameras on site during the extraction, and talking head style interviews recounting the process and journey undertaken. The Rescue begins with some shots of flooded farmland in Thailand before cutting to Vern Unsworth pointing at a map trying to explain the only way they can get the children out of the cave while someone translates his English to Thai so the man who seemingly presides over the operation can understand. It effectively puts you immediately in the middle of the chaos in an effort to feel what it’s like to accomplish this extraction. Not unlike Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi’s way of looking straight down the sheer cliff faces in Free Solo to put you right there on the mountain side with Honnold.

The boys had wandered into the cave playing that day while celebrating a birthday. The cave functioned as a sort of playground for them to play in and typically when the cave system begins flooding in July it is closed off. But in June when they boys entered it and had not yet been sealed to the public. While they were inside a sort of flash flood occurred that immediately sealed the cave system with water forcing them up to the highest point in the caves with limited oxygen supply in the pocket they made it to. Vern Unsworth(who you may know from the kerfuffle with Elon Musk during the extraction.) instructs the team heading up operations that the only chance they’ll have to successfully rescue the boys is to get the best cave divers in the world.

Which leads us into an introductory sequence with Rick Stanton and John Volunthen, renowned as the world’s best cave divers. From there we get an amalgamation of stitched together footage and voice over recounting their arrival to the camp and their recollection of the difficult process to convince the authorities to not only allow them access to the caves but to let them perform the extraction one at a time by injecting a medication to knock the boys out so they could be extracted one at a time by the divers. Convincing Dr. Richard Harris one of the best anaesthesiologists in the world to come up from Australia to help with administering the drugs. It would be a harrowing documentary if we didn’t already know how it ended more than three years ago. It plays like a thriller and a bit like PR film for the subjects. Their look at Honnold was much more neutral, it was clear they loved him, but they let in his faults, his ego, and some of his callousness. Characteristics that would have been welcome this time around from anyone besides those who are presented to have impeded the rescue mission. Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi are clearly here to stay. Let’s hope the next thing they turn their cameras toward they’re a bit more objective or more transparent about their roles during filming.

The Rescue Trailer

The Rescue was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival and is currently screening in limited theatrical release nationwide.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

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