Last Breath is Touching the Void meets Gravity but wetter. From directors Richard Da Costa and Alex Parkinson, the film yarns a gripping story of unfathomable survival, captured fathoms below and told through interviews, recreations and impressively intimate archive footage. Be sure to hold your heart tight as it thunders through your chest and into your mouth.
In 2012, Chris Lemons was one of the twelve saturation divers aboard Bibby Topaz, a 127-crewed dive support vessel operating on the North Sea. Whilst it is never totally clear what Chris and company were doing a hundred meters beneath ground level, well communicated insights do much to clarify the procedures involved. Even without ‘the event’ upon which Last Breath hinges, this would have made for a genuinely appealing short. There’s humour in the curious role that helium plays in the job of a deep sea diver and fascination in the understanding that the divers’ tub is compressed at ten times atmospheric pressure: ‘no one wants to be in with a knob’. With twenty-eight days below water ahead of him, one diver can be seen here to load his tub with a large box of share-size chocolate bars.
Things take a darker turn – of course they do – when stormy Scottish weather derails a difficult, albeit routine, sub-marine operation. The life-support cable attaching Chris to his tub – known as the umbilical cord – is snapped to strands and, much like George Clooney in Alfonso Cuarón’s space thriller, he’s lost to the mainframe. Thrumming music – mixed to breaking point by Andy Bradfield – and ominous past tense interviews – ‘it was a really, really exciting time in our lives’ says his fiancée – forebodes this twist from the off but it’s no less horrific when it comes. Chris, we are told, had just five minutes of oxygen available to him, with no hope of help for a further twenty-five. Start the clock.
Da Costa and Parkinson choreograph their film with a wilful, perhaps rather manipulative, reticence to withhold the outcome. Cruel that this is, it’s a testament to their artful success that the result proves to be quite so immensely involving. In the present day, Chris is nowhere to be seen; his fiancée hasn’t his surname and his former colleagues are still tangibly distressed. But surely, surely, he must survive? He must, if only to justify so intense a cinematic experience. Progressing at its own perfectly pitched pace, the film grips. In swift strokes, Da Costa and Parkinson capture their protagonist’s identity and cement him as the film’s emotional core. When you care, it hurts more.
In between smartly shot talking heads, the film benefits from home video footage captured by Chris himself – to send home – in the run up to his catastrophe. The passion and suppressed fear of a man facing risks he is all to aware of are captured and conveyed herein with surprising intimacy and do well to actualise his presence. Less successful are the sturdy, yet unconvincing, reconstructions, which never quite match the urgency around them. Nonetheless, Last Breath offers endless points of interest and a thrilling, edge of the seat odyssey. Suddenly, Jaws seems tame.