Imagine ‘Gravity’ at the bottom of the ocean or a Peter Berg disaster movie in documentary form and you’ve got this sweat-beaded subsea thriller. The would-be Mark Wahlberg character is a deep-sea diver called Chris Lemons, who was left stranded at the bottom of the North Sea when stormy weather and a computer malfunction left him untethered, lost and running out of oxygen.
It’s an intimate life-and-death story set in extreme circumstances, and co-directors Richard da Costa and Alex Parkinson leave it laudably free of unnecessary detail and context. After a brief introduction to the technical world of saturation diving (summary: something something oxygen and helium), the pair blend real dive-cam footage, talking head interviews and dramatic reconstructions into a taut account that feels like it’s unfolding in real time. Crucially, they also find a way around the helium-fuelled squeaking of the submerged dive team. Because there’s nothing more tension-shattering than middle-aged men talking like Dora the Explorer.
Emotionally charged, ‘Last Breath’ offers a forensic study of cold professionalism in the face of unfolding disaster. It’s deepened, too, by a rich cast of supporting characters, including Lemons’s fiancée in Scotland, the surface crew who recall the fateful night and his teary-eyed dive leader and mentor. But it’s his emotionless co-diver on the fateful job who provides the film’s killer line: ‘I wasn’t particularly upset about Chris. Shit happens.’