Directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin follow up their Academy Award-winning film Free Solo with another edge-of-your-seat tale exploring mankind’s perseverance when confronting the harsh realities of the natural world. This time they focus their documentary lens on the harrowing 2018 rescue of the Wild Boars, a Thai youth soccer team who were trapped in a cave for 16 days due to monsoon flooding. The Rescue is a taut survival drama that takes audiences past the headlines and into the dark tunnels that even the most experience divers found difficult.
The minute the 13 Wild Boars, 12 players and their coach, became trapped in the Nang Non Mountain caves due to torrential downpours it became an international news story. The rescuers were in a race against time as the pending monsoon season, which lasts up to four months, was going to flood the entire cave system. Starting off with a unit of 17 people, the rescue operation quickly expanded to over 5,000 individuals that ranged from members of the Royal Thai Army to Royal Thai Navy Seals to American Air Force to volunteers from around the globe.
One of the first individuals to get involve was Vern Unsworth, a seasoned cave explorer whose extensive knowledge of the cave’s structure, which spans over 6.2 miles, was used to update national Thai maps earlier. Unsworth knew that cave diving required certain skills and equipment that the Navy Seals simply did not have. If they had any hope of pulling off the rescue, they were going to need the expertise of the best cave divers in the world.
Jumping into the fold five days into the rescue, and getting the rockstar treatment upon their arrival, cave divers Rick Stanton and John Volanthen, a retried fireman and IT consultant respectively, quickly realized how difficult the task was going to be when they inadvertently found four groundworkers who where also trapped in another section of the cave. If rescuing the four adults with no diving experience proved harder then expected, how were they going to rescue 13 malnourished individuals who had a significantly larger distance to travel underwater.
As The Rescue unfolds the viewer gains a deeper understanding of not only the difficulty of finding the Wild Boars, but the dangerous experimental sedation technics that needed to be employed to get them out. While officials tried pumping out the water, and worked on drilling new entries into the cave, it became clear that they would need to dive the kids out. Of the cave divers who took part in the operation Chai Vasarhelyi and Chin use renowned British divers Stanton and Volanthen as the central navigators to guide the audience into the small dark passages of the cave and provide a greater understanding of their dangerous hobby and how it inadvertently became a life saving skill.
Many of the cave divers interviewed in the documentary express similar anti-social tendencies in their youth as Stanton and Volanthen. Once considered outsiders, they each found solace in the solitude of exploring caves. Pushing their minds and bodies to the brink as they wiggle through tight crevices, the divers make it clear that being able to turn off one’s emotion is key to survival. While the divers may be able to stay cool under pressure, it does not make Chai Vasarhelyi and Chin’s film any less claustrophobic and thrilling.
The Rescue is an exhilarating film that will have one holding their breath despite knowing the outcome. Utilizing hours of archival footage and incorporating interviews with a cross-section of people involved in the rescue, including the cave divers, military officials, and other volunteer, the film provides a detailed account of the events as they unfolded. By seamlessly weaving in re-enactments, one feels as if you are a part of the mission experiencing every taut moment as it unfolds. A tense and ultimately uplifting tale of faith and perseverance, The Rescue is one of the year’s most exhilarating films.