‘The Rescue’ – made by the directors of ‘Free Solo’ – shows the gripping reality of the 2018 Thai cave rescue with ultra-realistic reenactments

“The Rescue.”

  • The documentary masterfully takes you inside the rescue.
  • The hero cave divers took part in the movie’s reenactments depicting their courageous acts.
  • “The Rescue” opens in theaters on October 8.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Filmmakers E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin have spent their careers doing movies that feature people who find their thrills doing death-defying extreme sports. The one that found them the highest-acclaim, an Academy Award win, was 2018’s “Free Solo,” in which the duo chronicled the first-ever free solo climb of El Capitan at Yosemite National Park by climber Alex Honnold.

Now the filmmakers have elevated their storytelling once more with “The Rescue,” a perfectly made recount of the dramatic rescue of 12 teen soccer players and their coach from the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in the Chiang Rai Province of northern Thailand.

You probably remember the worldwide news coverage of the events. 15 days we were on the edge of our seats as thousands of volunteers, the Thai Navy SEALS, and cave divers from all over the globe went to Chiang Rai to help rescue the boys and their coach.

It doesn’t matter if you know the outcome or don’t going into “The Rescue” because either way, it delivers.

This story has to be seen to be believed.

British cave-diver John Volanthen.

The hero cave divers are amazing on-screen characters in the documentary

What’s so special about this documentary is not just the access Vasarhelyi and Chin got for the movie but how they used it.

Once more teaming with National Geographic (as they did on “Free Solo”), the directors have the resources needed to tell the story properly: underwater photography, 3D mapping of the long cave. However, the greatest attribute the filmmakers have is putting the focus on the cave divers who could do what the SEALS couldn’t: find the boys and get them out.

After the realization that the missing boys were in the cave and monsoon-like rains were on the horizon, the rescue became a race against time. But it so happened that one of the greatest cave divers on the planet was going out with a woman whose hometown was where this was all taking place.

Rick Stanton is a retired British firefighter who for 40 years has been exploring the most dangerous caves on Earth as a hobby. He learned what was happening from his girlfriend and teamed with his cave exploring partner, John Volanthen – an IT consultant who is a world-record-holding British cave diver – to go and see if they could help in Chiang Rai.

Delving into not just Stanton and Volanthen’s recollections but their lives is as fascinating as it is thrilling. They are men who feel most at peace being in claustrophobic underwater caves. It’s the complete opposite of the “Free Solo” subject Alex Honnold, whose domain is high above the surface climbing mountains. But what they all have in common is an intense dedication to their craft.

For Stanton and Volanthen, the stakes are life or death in Chiang Rai.

(L-R) John Volanthen and Rick Stanton in “The Rescue.”

The directors used the actual hero divers for the movie’s reenactment scenes

What is also so special about “The Rescue” is how Vasarhelyi and Chin look back on the events.

There is a lot of archival footage to choose from. The event got attention from practically every news source in the world as well as countless phone video footage from volunteers. But how do you show what the divers went through inside the cave to rescue everyone? Reenactments were the answer.

It’s not a revolutionary idea, the method has been done time and again in documentaries. However, they are often sloppy and filmed with actors who sort of look like the real people but not exactly, so the footage can take a viewer out of the story.

That did not happen here. Vasarhelyi and Chin used Stanton, Volanthen and the other divers who were there in the cave to film the reenactments. It results in some of the best reenactment footage I’ve ever seen. There are definitely moments where I wondered if what I was watching was reenactment footage or video shot on the day.

The Thai soccer team in the cave.

Expect a lot of Oscar buzz for this movie

There are countless projects in the works looking back on the Tham Luang cave rescue, including the Ron Howard-directed movie “Thirteen Lives” starring Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell, and Joel Edgerton. I don’t know how they can be successful after “The Rescue” comes out.

Vasarhelyi and Chin have made the definitive retelling of this event and whatever I see after I will always compare it to what I saw in “The Rescue.”

The duo are certainly on their way for another Oscar nomination and right now are the frontrunner to win it.

“The Rescue” opens in theaters on October 8.

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