Hot Docs 2019 Review: Last Breath

by Andrew Parker

If the intense and thoroughly captivating documentary Last Breath doesn’t leave viewers with quickened pulses and goosebumps, they might want to consult their physicians. Easily the most claustrophobic and visceral thriller playing at Hot Docs this year, directors Alex Parkinson and Richard da Costa’s underwater thriller blends slickly dramatized reenactment footage, remarkably candid interviews, and first-person viewpoints of a disaster in the making to exceptional, heart-stopping effect.

Last Breath concerns the problem plagued mission of three deep sea saturation divers, who spend 28 days at a time in a locked off environment calibrated to ten times our normal atmospheric pressure to perform delicate underwater repairs to oil drilling and monitoring equipment. On September 18, 2012 in in the North Sea – 100 metres below the surface and in four degree water – the members of the dive support vessel Topaz out of Aberdeen descend to perform otherwise unexceptional repairs on some oil field equipment. Things go haywire in a hurry, however, when a violent storm rolls in and one of the divers, Chris Lemons, has his life giving tether to his ship severed, turning what should’ve been an easy day’s work into a life saving race against time.

Parkinson and da Costa sit down with the crew members to get their sometimes differing view of events, and while their insights help the viewer to better understand the urgency and technical setbacks of the rescue operation, it’s the stark and harrowing footage that comes from each of the diver’s helmet cameras that will leave viewers on the edge of their seats throughout Last Breath. While the happenings aboard the Topaz have been largely recreated to show the sequence of events (and because there were no cameras up there), the rest of Last Breath is frighteningly real. It’s a survival thriller in the purest and most terrifying sense. See it on the biggest screen and in the darkest, coldest theatre possible.

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